InsightA travel agent’s decision to join a host agency can be one of the most stressful steps in starting a home-based business. With so many host agencies to choose from, and with their different commission structures and business models, it can be a confusing process.

Stephanie Lee says she saw a void for a website and service that attempts to collect information about the host agencies available in North America in one place, so that those new to the industry or veteran home-based agents can easily sort through different types of hosts and their offerings.

Her site, www.hostagencyreviews.com, was started in mid-2012 and is drawing thousands of visitors each month.

“I worked at a host agency and saw there was a real need for more information, because people often are not clear about the differences between host agencies,” Lee said.

Her site features listings of 85 host agencies with descriptions of their services and a forum in which agents discuss their experiences with host agencies.

Lee tries to be as comprehensive as possible in the listings, including both advertisers and nonadvertisers. For the forum, she moderates the discussion to make sure the conversations stay on a professional level. Reviews are published only after being vetted to ensure the site’s guidelines were followed.

“There’s no way to make 100% sure that all the reviews are true or that people are who they say they are, but I require a working email address and watch to see if there’s something suspicious” in the postings, she said. “What we’re looking for are helpful reviews of host agencies. It’s important to be constructive.”

Lee encourages agents to share their host agency experiences. “The truth is, the best people to ask about host agencies are agents. Right now, the site is rich with information — information that can only come from insiders — and it’s continuing to grow.”

She said the most common question posted on the forum is “What’s the best host agency for me?”

“I get a lot of people who are new to the industry, so I try to provide guidance. It’s a lot of work to find a host agency. On the site, you can tell me your business model and what you’re looking for, and I can tell you what might be a good fit. It’s not as cut-and-dried as commissions. Some hosts focus on training, and that’s what a lot of newcomers need and want.”

Use of the site is free, and Lee’s revenue is derived from host agencies and other advertisers. All hosts are listed for free, but those who pay to advertise have more prominent listings and the opportunity to provide more detailed information. The site also includes articles on careers as a home-based agent, some sponsored by advertisers and clearly marked as such.

Lee grew up in the travel agency profession, working with her mother, Bonnie Lee, who owns Travel Quest, a Minnesota-based host agency. After six years, a period during which the company grew to 400 home-based agents, she left Travel Quest to start her website and service.

She says she’s a “huge advocate” of home-based agency businesses as a career.

“Travel agents are not dead. Many are doing really well, making into the six figures. There’s fantastic opportunity, but with a caveat. You’re either an entrepreneur or you’re not. You’ve really got to be an entrepreneur.”

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