Online travel agency
Being an online travel agent has become a popular stay-at-home job over the years. There are numerous Internet travel agencies that offer training, certifications and the opportunity to start your own travel agency. With so much competition to face online, a smart tactic is to specialize in certain types of travel or destinations so you can market yourself as an expert. Before you start your very own online travel agency, however, it is recommended that you start your career as an independent contractor for an established host agency so you can learn the ins and outs with minimal startup costs and less financial risk.
Determining Your Specialty in the Travel Market
1. Consider what sort of travel agent you wish to be.
Resist the urge to instantly become a travel agent for all people interested in all destinations. Due to the limitless competition, you will face on the internet, aim to be a sought-after expert, rather than a jack-of-all-trades. Just as a restaurateur must settle on a cuisine, menu, and customer demographics start thinking about what sort of packages and destinations you would like to offer to which sort of people.
- Two distinct types of travel agents are “corporate” and “leisure” agents. The former makes arrangements for companies whose personnel who must travel for their work. The latter books personal vacations for individuals.
- Leisure agents may specialize in terms of themes (such as adventure or romantic getaways), destinations (with a thorough knowledge and plenty of advice for their customers), or clientele (catering to those traveling on a budget or those with unlimited means).
2. Write down your interests
Increase your passion for the job and your chances of success by focusing on areas that already fascinate you. First, jot down your interests in general terms, even if they seem to have nothing to do with travel. Then create a second list of destinations that you loved visiting or would love to go to. Compare the two lists. Try to pair your interests with specific destinations that pertain to them to double your enthusiasm.
3. Determine your client base.
Imagine yourself back in the role of the travel agent. Now picture who you would most like to see going off on your dream vacation in your place. Consider not just the destination, but the nature of your dream travel package. Perhaps most importantly, consider how much money you envision your ideal customers spending.
- Contact other travel agents for quotes to get a rough idea of the going price for the sort of dream trips you would like to offer your own clients.
- Use this price information to determine what sort of income your clients would need to afford these trips.
Laying the Groundwork for Your Business
1. Create a budget.
Set aside money to cover essential equipment for an online business. These items include a phone, a fax machine, a website, and a computer with Internet access and a printer. Also, anticipate having to possibly pay fees for the following:
- Training and certification
- Registering as a business
2. Use available resources to learn about the industry. If you know anyone who works as a travel agent, treat them to a cup of coffee so you can pick their brain. Visit online forums and message boards that are specific to the industry to see what issues insiders talk about. Join professional networks. Subscribe to publications that are dedicated to the business.
3. Come up with a name for your business
Since your business will be based online, keep it short so people can remember and search for it easily. Google each name you think of to see if that specific domain name has already been taken and/or if that exact company name has already been registered by another entity. Also, take note of the top hits that come up with each search. Even if the name you want is currently free, consider something different if your website is likely to come 50th in a list of other popular searches.
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4. Register your business
Consult a lawyer and/or tax accountant about which classification best suits your business: sole proprietor, partnership, LLC, or corporation. As a small business, you will most likely register as a sole proprietor. In that event, ask your lawyer if local or state laws require you to register a “Doing Business As” (DBA) name with those governments.
5. Separate your personal and business finances
Apply for an Employer Identification Number (EIN) to use for tax purposes in lieu of your Social Security number. Open a bank account specifically for your business to keep better track of company expenses. If your business needs a credit card in addition to the debit card that comes with your new bank account, apply for a new credit card to be used exclusively for your company.
Joining a Host Agency
1. Consider signing up with a host agency
Although you are free to start an online travel agency that is totally independent of any other business entity, consider starting as an independent contractor for a host agency instead. Transition into your new career with less stress by utilizing their pre-existing infrastructure. Learn the trade and gain insight into what is needed to construct your own successful business before attempting to start one from scratch. Host agencies will provide:
- Community support
- Lower overhead
2. Research agencies
There are numerous host agencies out there, so take the time to familiarize yourself with any given one before applying to join. Read customer reviews to see if the company’s brand is sought after by the public or avoided at all costs. Visit forums frequented by current and former agents who worked with them to find out what sort of experiences they had. Call each agency to discuss information that may not have mentioned on their website.
3. Sign up with the agency
The process for each agency will vary but expect to pay an application fee. If they offer a training and certification course, the application fee may cover these, or they may be billed separately. Complete the coursework assigned in the specified amount of time to receive certification.