The pandemic has produced a surge in the number of startup host agencies, many launched by veteran advisors or legacy agencies.
They're taking advantage of a period that has seen agents, under duress from the pandemic, reexamining existing relationships with hosts and consortia, but they're also seeing interest from people hoping to begin a career selling travel.
Lori Speers, a 38-year industry veteran, launched Levarte Travel in Dallas in late January. She wanted to form a host agency that served agents her way and finds she's also benefiting from increased consumer demand for travel and advisors.
"I'm excited," she said. "Travel needs advisors right now. We're doing way better than we expected."
So far, Levarte has onboarded 202 independent contractors (ICs). Speers' goal is 500 by year's end, and she said she's on track to get there. Around 25% of her ICs are new to the industry, attracted by Levarte advertising that touts a new work-from-home career opportunity.
Levarte's other ICs are more experienced. Some came from other hosts, and others were previously unaffiliated but are seeking a way to reduce their costs and earn higher commissions on a wider range of products.
Among the other pandemic pioneers in the hosting field is LaMacchia Travel in Kenosha, Wis., which launched LaMacchia Jet Stream late last year. The team hopes to onboard 50 experienced ICs by the end of the year, and the company's marketing and operations manager, Nolan Flynn, said it's on track to reach that goal, with around 30 now.
Most of its ICs came from larger host agencies; others had worked in the industry but not as advisors. "Who we have and how they're all engaging -- it's exactly what we're looking for," Flynn said.
Many were attracted by the more intimate nature of Jet Stream. The company's ambition, Flynn said, is to scale only to a size where "everyone knows each other by first names."
Those who have signed up "see this opportunity of people wanting to travel again, more so than they ever have before," he added.
This spring, the Appointment Group (TAG) launched a host agency, TAGiclub, on an even smaller scale.
"We don't intend to be a big host agency. That's not what we're about," said TAG's director of commercial, Justine Liddelow.
Instead, TAGiclub is looking for a small handful of ICs, especially those who serve the entertainment industry, TAG's specialty. TAGiclub was established after several ICs joined TAG in recent years.
Its goal is to onboard between five and 10 new ICs this year. With that number, TAG can comfortably provide the ICs with a good number of leads, Liddelow said. She is currently in talks with potential ICs, the majority of whom are affiliated with another host.
Despite the strange times during which these hosts were founded, Speers, Flynn and Liddelow all said they're optimistic and looking forward to travel's resumption.
"It's always been my philosophy to lift up [agents] in their careers," Speers said. "I want to do things that actually make a difference for them."