Have you ever wanted to escape the 9-5 grind and become your own boss? Do you have a passion for travel and helping others? If so, becoming an independent travel agent may be the perfect new career for you!
In this article, we have a comprehensive guide on how to become an independent travel agent. We’ll break down everything you need to know, from the skills you need to the steps involved in getting started. We will also discuss the benefits and challenges of being an independent travel agent, so you can decide if it’s the right fit for you. Plus, we’ve got tips on how to get started and land your first clients.
So whether you are just starting to explore the idea of becoming an independent travel agent or you are ready to take the plunge into the travel industry, this article is for you.
First things first. What’s an independent travel agent?
A travel agent (also known as a travel advisor) is someone who earns money by booking travel and helping clients make travel arrangements. You can book leisure travel or corporate travel, or both. You are essentially working as a travel consultant. If you want to dive deeper into the nitty gritty, learn more in our article: what is a travel agent?
An independent travel agent is a self-employed travel agent (someone who works for themselves). You call the shots and you can work part-time or full-time. It’s also a career path that you can build up over time (for example, transitioning from part-time to full-time). Independent travel agents are entrepreneurs.
Typically, independent travel agents work as independent contractors with a host agency. A host agency is a business that provides support and resources such as training, partnerships and tools to their agents. Independent agents leverage these resources while maintaining their own brand and business operations. This arrangement allows independent agents to compete more effectively in the market without the overhead costs of developing these resources independently.
If you’re looking to become an independent travel agent, you'll want to choose your host agency wisely. At Fora, we offer an all-in-one solution for everything you need to succeed as an independent travel advisor. Learn more about our membership program.
Skills you need to become a successful travel agent
Whether it's planning a dream vacation, booking a cruise line or organizing an adventurous expedition, travel agents bring their expertise, creativity and enthusiasm to every booking.
If you’ve never booked travel for someone else before, don’t stress – passion for travel and a willingness to learn is the biggest criteria to get started.
As you dive in, you’ll start to hone your ability to sell travel. This includes being able to identify client needs, build rapport and close deals. Agents must also be able to provide excellent customer service, which means being responsive to client inquiries, resolving any issues that arise and going the extra mile to ensure client satisfaction. In other words, you’re someone who loves helping others.
Another important skill for independent travel agents is the ability to conduct research. This includes nerding out on building an itinerary, as well as being able to compare prices. We have an all-in-one booking platform for travel advisors that helps makes the latter part easier.
Of course, you’ll want to stay up-to-date on the latest travel trends. At Fora, we have ongoing training sessions for you to stay in-the-know on the latest updates in the travel industry, plus you’ll join a top-notch community of fellow Fora Advisors who are willing and eager to share their tips with you.
Finally, independent travel agents need to be able to market themselves and their business. This means putting yourself out there, creating marketing materials and networking with potential clients. Learn more about how Fora helps you build your book of business.
How to become an independent travel agent: a step-by-step guide
Becoming a travel agent takes work and dedication. But if you stick with it, a career as a travel advisor can be rewarding in both an “I love my job!” kind of way and in a lucrative sense.
Let’s break down the steps in broad strokes.
1. Find a host agency
As an independent travel advisor, you’ll likely want to partner with a host agency. You’ll work as an independent contractor, and the host agency offers infrastructure that will cover everything from commission tracking and payments to preferred programs with top travel brands.
At Fora, we pride ourselves on our holistic approach to supporting our advisors. We offer training, community, technology, marketing tools and seamless payments. We’re also part of every major preferred partner program, and we have our own in-house program (Fora Reserve) as well – so you’ll be able to offer your clients a wide variety of perks and upgrades while getting a competitive commission at the same time. Learn more becoming a travel advisor with Fora.
2. Get formal training
Once you join a host agency, you’ll want to dive into training. There is a lot to learn... You’ll want to learn the lingo (like what a DMC is), as well as the basics of how to make a booking. By the way, training as a travel advisor is ongoing. Even experienced travel advisors participate in ongoing training to stay in-the-know. We love that working as a travel advisor is one of the best roles to be a professional life-time learner.
3. Stay diligent and start booking travel
As you learn the ropes, you’ll gear up to get ready to book travel for clients. Booking travel for clients is a skill that you’ll build confidence in over time. Hotels are a great start to book travel, but there are plenty of other travel experiences that you can book, from vacation packages to travel insurance. Learn more about the different types of travel suppliers you can book as an advisor.
Success rarely occurs overnight, but you get out what you put in. We’ve got plenty of resources to help you along the way.
Considerations to become an independent travel agent
Benefits of becoming an independent travel agent
One of the primary advantages is the flexibility it offers. You are running your own travel business, after all. You have the freedom to set your own work hours and location. Whether you prefer to work from the comfort of your home as a home-based travel agent or while traveling the world, you’ll have the autonomy to create a schedule that suits your lifestyle.
It’s worth noting that you can start part-time if you prefer. This flexibility allows individuals to test the waters of entrepreneurship. As your business grows and gains momentum, you can gradually transition to full-time work. It’s worth noting that not every travel agency accepts part-time agents, but at Fora, we do. There are no sales booking minimums at Fora, and you can book as much (or as little) as you want.
There’s also a lot of creativity in the business. Independent travel agents have the chance to build their own brand and network of loyal clients.
Next, it’s a passion-driven career. After all, you are helping others plan their dream vacations and can help with milestone moments like honeymoons. Witnessing the joy and gratitude of satisfied clients makes this career rewarding.
Finally, it’s worth noting that working as an advisor offers the chance to connect with a community of fellow travel lovers. The travel industry is filled with passionate professionals who share a love for exploration and adventure. At Fora, we’re big on community and have a ton of opportunities to connect with fellow Fora Advisors in person as well as online (we have a digital community app called Forum).
Challenges of becoming an independent travel agent
Despite the flexibility and rewards, becoming an independent travel agent also comes with its fair share of challenges, and it’s important to factor these in as you decide whether it’s the right role for you.
There is a learning curve as you get started. Your first booking will take longer than the bookings you make later in your career (it takes both practice and confidence to build speed). You should not expect overnight success, and that’s okay! It’s a rewarding career to build over time.
It’s worth considering that there's irregular work schedules that are often unavoidable. For example, if you’re booking travel for someone over the holidays and they need support, you’ll need to step in with excellent customer service skills.
Additionally, the income of an independent travel agent can be uncertain. It is a commission-based business, and so your income can fluctuate in a way that’s different from a traditional 9-5. Learn more about how travel agents get paid.
Despite these challenges, becoming an independent travel agent can be a rewarding career.
FAQs on how to become an independent travel agent
Still have questions? We’ve got you.
Is it possible to become a travel agent without an agency?
Yes, but it’s worth noting that this isn’t the traditional path that most advisors take (especially as they’re getting started). This is because a host travel agency offers infrastructure and support that is difficult and expensive to set up on your own. For example, you cannot make commissions on bookings without an IATA number (a unique identifier assigned by the International Air Transport Association to travel agencies). Working with a host agency means that you have less upfront and ongoing work around legal/infrastructure.
In addition, host agencies offer support and scale. You’re joining a network of fellow advisors who are booking under the same umbrella, so you’re more likely to get preferred partnership benefits through programs like Virtuoso, Four Seasons Preferrred, Rosewood Elite and more. We offer all of this through Fora.
How much do travel agents make?
The short answer is that you get what you put in. The earning potential for independent travel agents can vary significantly. Generally, independent travel agents who specialize in luxury travel or a niche tend to earn higher incomes compared to those who focus on budget travel.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for travel agents was $44,620 in May 2020. However, it’s worth noting that it can be a lucrative career, and there are many travel advisors earning well into the six figures.
How do I get clients as an independent travel advisor?
As you start out as a new independent travel advisor, it can be daunting to try and figure out how to get your first clients and build your business. We typically recommend beginning by tapping into your personal network. Then, you’ll want to expand your network through marketing initiatives. We offer training on how to market yourself, plus templates so that you can stay active on social media. Lastly, at Fora, we have an industry-leading Client Lead Program that allows travel advisors to build their client base. Learn more about how we help you build your book of business.
What qualifications do I need to become an independent travel agent?
While formal training is technically not required to become an independent travel agent, it is highly recommended. There are several training programs available to become accredited in the industry. Many of these programs offer comprehensive training that covers everything you need to know about the travel industry, from booking flights and hotels to marketing your services. Some programs even offer certification, which can give you a competitive edge when looking for clients.
Fora offers a comprehensive travel agent training program that can help you get started in this exciting career. Upon completing our program, you will be certified as a travel agent and ready to start your own business. We will also provide you with ongoing support and resources to help you succeed.
How do I stand out?
Being an independent travel agent comes with its perks, and it also means you’re developing your own business. One of the best ways to stand out among the crowd is thoughtful, creative and consistent marketing.
As an independent travel agent with Fora, you'll have access to content marketing tools like email templates and social media resources to help you peacock your travel knowledge.
We’ll also help guide you in building your brand around your niche. Do you know the ins and outs of cruises? We’ll help you create gorgeous marketing emails on cruising. Are you a Disney travel aficionado? You can publish guides optimized for SEO on your tried-and-true tips (read how to become a Disney travel agent, too).
Remember, success as an independent travel agent requires dedication, hard work and a passion for travel. By effectively marketing yourself, delivering exceptional customer service, networking strategically and committing to professional development, you can establish a successful and rewarding career.
How can I get started to become an independent travel agent?
We offer everything you need to succeed as a travel advisor, from your first booking to your 1,000th and beyond. When you’re ready to get started, apply to become a Fora Advisor today.