I’ve had the good fortune to have been a travel advisor for eight years now. I was actually originally inspired to go into the business after an amazing travel experience I had with my wife. Travel is the kind of activity that gives people pleasure, and I thought if I could make a living while making people happy at the same time, that’d be a pretty good gig. I was so convinced, I quit my job and opened up my own agency. I’m really happy I did. Not only did my instincts turn out to be right, but I’ve been able to provide a lot of people with fantastic experiences.
I’ve learned a lot of lessons along the way about the ups and downs of the travel agency business. The ups definitely outweigh the downs. In case you’re considering becoming a travel agent/advisor yourself – or if you’re just curious why it’s so great to be one – I figured I’d provide a list for you to check out:
- Flexibility – Travel advisors can pretty much work from anywhere, even on-the-go. And advisors can work full- or part-time. In fact, the majority of travel advisors who work from home do so part-time.
- Equal Opportunity – Literally anybody can become a travel advisor. You do not need to have a certain level of education. You do not need to pass any tests or have a license to practice. And because travel advisors work mostly on commission, your earnings potential is really directly related to how hard and smart you work.
- It’s Educational - Being a travel agent means that an important part of your job is to learn about destinations globally. To best serve our clients, we also need to learn a lot more than the things they’re going to witness and visit. We need to know about government policies, local history, CDC reports among other critical pieces of information. This builds an even broader base of knowledge and understanding of the world.
- We Learn on Their Dime – To help us learn about a destination, we often get invited by destinations on FAM (familiarization) trips. These trips are free -- or nearly free -- and while they are work, there are plenty of worse ways to get an education and travel at the same time!
- Discounted Travel Agent Rates – As travel agents we often qualify for or are offered discounted rates. Sometimes we’re even comped a portion or all of our personal travel.
- See More of the World – Between FAM trips and discounted rates, as a travel advisor you can easily become a seasoned, frequent world traveler. Seeing more of the world and its different cultures informs your world view and changes you for the better. It’s really an incredible benefit.
- We Get the Royal Treatment -- When we do travel, we’re often pampered with special amenities, upgrades, and VIP treatment/access that typically gets reserved only for big spenders or high-profile guests.
- Our Destination Partners Make Us Look So Good – Travel suppliers like hotels, tour operators, and others invest endless time and money into creating the guest's experience. We travel advisors often get the bulk of the credit for a strong positive guest experience, even though we aren’t the ones doing the heavy lifting.
- Professional Travel Planning Keeps You Sharp – Planning and booking travel requires a lot of organization. There are details to keep track of, changes to manage, different personalities to juggle, and lots of ongoing communications, many of which have time-sensitive deadlines.
- You’ll Meet Really Interesting People – Whether it’s your clients, the foreigners you work with or meet on your journeys, or the passenger sitting next to you on a plane, being a travel agent exposes you to a lot of diverse and interesting people. One of the reasons I love being a luxury travel advisor, for instance, is that I also get to speak with a lot of highly successful people. I can ask a lot of questions and hear their secrets of success which – I would like to think – helps to make me more successful, too.
- Working in the Hospitality Business – Hospitality defines the travel business, and most people working in travel offer hospitality unlike any other industry. We give and receive kindness and service, and we form strong, long-lasting, and meaningful relationships. Any job can be exasperating at times, so it’s nice to be part of an industry where hospitality rules the day.
But there is one down-side
Now that I’ve listed the positives of being a travel advisor, there’s one big reason it’s a hassle: It can be really hard to get paid. Since we rely mostly on commission, we do not get paid upfront and need to wait until the trip is completed and then for our suppliers to process our payment. This can take months, and even then, receiving the money you earned is not a given. That’s because the invoicing and payment process from supplier to supplier is completely inconsistent. Even when the payment is sent, it is touched by multiple hands before you actually collect it. Moreover, reservations are often changed after booking, and when that happens it could affect the commission amount without the agent even knowing! You have to do a lot of tracking and follow-up – maybe months’ worth -- and the burden is on you to do so. Most travel agents are still doing all of this tracking and follow-up by hand, the old-fashioned way. Until recently, there hasn’t been a simple, online system to manage this all.
After repeatedly experiencing this headache myself, I decided to fix it for everyone’s benefit. My business partner and I recruited an amazing group of people to build a simpler, more automated solution. The name of our company is SION, and it’s the next chapter in my professional journey.
I am grateful that SION’s reception and traction so far has been amazing. If you’re a travel advisor or thinking of becoming one, I hope you will check out SION for yourself so it can help you too: SIONcentral.com.
If you liked this article, you might also want to read my first one, "The Opportunity Cost of Tracking & Chasing Travel Agent Commissions."