Wondering how to start a travel agency? We’re breaking down all the steps below — and highlighting why joining a host agency like Fora may be the better (and more financially rewarding) path.
Ready to start selling travel? Sign up to become a Fora Advisor today. All it takes is a passion for travel. We’ll hook you up with everything you need — from expert-led travel agent training to a mountain of marketing resources — to be successful.
First, what exactly is a travel agency?
Travel agencies are different from individual travel agents — or travel advisors (the Fora term has a better ring to it, doesn’t it?). Agencies are collections of advisors that plan and book trips for clients. (Asking yourself, "What does a travel agent do? We've got you.)
The advisors can either be independent contractors — as they are at Fora — or dedicated employees. The former are largely in control of their business while the latter typically adheres to rigid schedules, dedicated offices and so on. Independent travel agents have significantly more freedom.
At Fora, our advisors can work as much or as little as they want. A large number of Fora Advisors plan trips as a travel side hustle, for instance. This typically isn’t allowed at non-independent agencies.
Are there different types of travel agencies?
Yes. Some agencies offer specific travel agent jobs, with distinct travel agent niches. Examples include luxury travel agencies, cruise agencies, agencies that cater to select destinations and more.
Learning how to start a travel agency with a niche doesn’t dramatically alter the process, but it can affect your bottom line (see below).
What benefits and perks do travel agencies offer?
Exact perks will vary by agency, and some agencies offer little more than brand name. If you’re learning how to start a travel agency, then it’s up to you to decide what types of benefits and perks programs to offer.
At Fora, we offer extensive support, a multitude of travel agent training covering every aspect of the travel industry, virtually all the marketing resources you could need and access to our community of travel advisors, which is built upon sharing insider wisdom, deals and travel tips that can be shared with clients. Oh, and Fora Advisors can also offer their clients VIP hotel and travel perks at thousands of properties around the world thanks to our travel partnerships.
Do you need an agency to become a travel advisor?
Technically, you can become a travel advisor without joining or starting a travel agency. However, this can be a difficult path because you’ll have to forge supplier relationships on your own.
While most hotel groups offer commissions — that’s how travel agents are paid — only a few offer client-facing perks, and many of these programs are by invitation only. To obtain an invite, you need to be successful as a travel agency. But to be successful, you need to be able to offer perks and deals to entice clients away from online travel agencies like Expedia, not to mention more established travel agencies.
If this sounds difficult, we get it; it's crucial to understand that starting a travel agency is more difficult in general. In addition to securing partnerships with major travel brands, you’ll have to worry about things like licensing, startup costs and the like (we’ll come back to this soon).
Alternatively, you can join Fora and take advantage of all the resources and partnerships we offer from day one.
Is it a good idea to start a travel agency?
So far, we’ve largely focused on why it’s difficult to start a travel agency. And we’ve touched on why joining a host agency like Fora is the better deal. But if you're still keen on this option, let’s cover the advantages of starting a travel agency from scratch.
There’s always a demand for travel
In fact, travel demand is at an all-time high. Between jobs where you travel, vacations and remote work, more people than ever are regularly seeing the world.
Considering travel advisors and agencies are astronomically outnumbered by the amount of people seeking travel, there are opportunities to start your own agency from scratch. However, this gap is shrinking, and competing with the big agencies is only going to get tougher.
Want to join a successful travel agency? Check out Fora's 2023 year in review: good things are happening here, and our travel advisors are reaping the benefits.
The value of a travel agent is better than it has ever been
As more people travel, suppliers (such a hotels and cruises) are more likely to offer perks that travel agencies and advisors can offer their clients. Plus, there’s less risk to a supplier’s bottom line because the advisors tend to bring in higher quality guests, and there's a greater chance for repeat business.
Travel agencies can be very lucrative…once they get off the ground
Because so many people are traveling right now, the opportunity to earn income from commissions and planning is exceptional. However, it’s worth noting that established agencies have a clear advantage here. People are much more likely to plan their travel through familiar brands than untested agencies.
If you’re looking for brand recognition, you don’t have to look far. We have an ever-growing presence on social media, and perhaps more importantly, we’re constantly being acknowledged by the biggest names in travel, from The New York Times to Virtuoso.
How to start a travel agency: step-by-step
Ready for the exact steps? Here’s how to start a travel agency from scratch.
A warning though: this guide isn’t meant to be taken as business or legal advice, nor is this an all-encompassing plan for all jurisdictions. Some locales, states and countries may require additional or alternative steps.
Or, skip the hassle of building your own travel agency and start selling travel as an independent advisor right away when you sign up to become a Fora Advisor.
1. Understand the travel industry, conduct market research & identify a niche
Before you ever touch a business plan, it is important that you learn the ins and outs of the travel industry. This means understanding the triangular relationship between suppliers — such as hotel brands and rental-car services — travel advisors and clients. It’s then critical to know the exact products and services you’ll be selling. This includes hotel reservations, tours, cruises… you get the idea.
Next, it’s important that you know your competition, and this will rise and fall depending on the audience you’re seeking. For example, it’s generally easier to get your foot in the door at the local level than to start on an international field, where all the major players have already found their market share.
On the flip side, while there may be less competition the smaller you scale, there may also be exponentially less demand for your agency’s services. Ultimately, it's all a balancing act.
To do all of this, you’ll need to enroll in travel supplier training courses, conduct market research and perhaps ideally, find a niche to exploit.
If you opt to join a travel agency instead, the amount of material you need to cover is but a fraction of what we’ve mentioned thus far.
2. Create a business plan, register your business, make a financial plan & secure startup costs
After you get a handle on the industry, you have to understand the more technical aspects of starting a travel agency.
This includes creating a business plan, registering your business with all local, state and federal entities (requirements varies by country), pitching a financial plan to investors and securing your startup costs, which could be anywhere from a few thousand dollars to tens of thousands of dollars and beyond — the exact number relies on many more factors than can reasonably be listed here. But generally, the larger your target market, the larger the initial investment needs to be.
This isn’t a one-time ordeal either, as you’ll need to secure investments to fund regular business operations until you start turning a profit.
Comparatively, our membership fee costs either $49 per month or $299 per year, a far better deal.
3. Understand your tax obligations
Another technical aspect of starting a travel agency, or any business, is understanding your tax obligations. Taxes for agencies, regardless of how they are organized (as a corporation, LLC, etc.), are going to be more complicated than taxes for travel advisors because there are a lot more factors to consider, such as employees, nuanced expenses and so on.
4. Acquire all the necessary licenses & registrations for your travel agency (local, state, international…)
In addition to ordinary business licenses (i.e., the licenses you need to run any business), you may also need to register as a seller of travel. Exact license requirements change with your location — and the specifics get convoluted fast. Moreover, you may also need licenses in select areas before you can sell travel within their borders (e.g. California).
As such, this is a good time to mention that when you become a Fora Advisor, you’re operating under our already established licenses, saving you loads of time and money on fees.
5. Create a website & set up your office (online and / or brick-and-mortar)
Next up on how to start a travel agency: creating a website and choosing an office location.
In today’s world, websites are essential, and it’s not enough to “set it and forget it.” You’ll either need to hire a dedicated web team or devote a portion of your time to maintenance, functionality and development. It’s also worth mentioning that a barebones website isn’t going to cut it — you’ll need something that explains what your business does and why clients should choose you over your competitors.
Additionally, you’ll need to set up an office and decide whether to operate as an in-person agency, an online agency or somewhere in between. The brick-and-mortar route can be helpful in terms of managing your agency from a centralized point, especially as you grow, but there are many perks to allowing your travel advisors to operate online (see more about how to become a travel agent online). Your agency won’t be limited to in-person travel consultations, and can therefore work with clients anywhere in the world.
6. Hire or contract travel advisors, plus support staff
Unless you’re an agency of one, you’ll need to either hire or contract travel advisors along with various support staff. Moreover, you’ll need to decide whether you’ll train advisors in-house or require some sort of prior travel agent school.
The first part isn’t too difficult — plenty of people have a passion for travel — but the second part can make or break your agency. Quality training will go a long way in ensuring your agency's relevance and success.
7. Adopt travel software platforms used for bookings
The best travel agencies can book hotels and other reservations (learn about the types of bookings Fora Advisors can make) through their in-house systems. This is a huge technical advantage that boosts efficiency and convenience, which in turn draws top talent. The best travel advisors want to work with agencies that offer great tools.
Unfortunately, developing these systems is no easy feat. You’ll either need to hire a software team or outsource projects to a third party, both of which require massive investments in time and capital.
Or you can become a Fora Advisor and make use of our proprietary booking platform that allows you to book 29,000 hotels worldwide (and counting).
8. Secure supplier relationships and establish perks to make your travel agency appealing to clients
Supplier partnerships are essential to start a travel agency. They are one of the main reasons clients choose an agency to book travel.
Fora has dozens of global partnerships with hotel brands, experiences, cruise lines and more. And these relationships have played a massive role in our early success. Moreover, through these supplier partnerships, Fora Advisors can offer VIP perks to their clients.
9. Establish your brand & begin marketing
The last major aspect of learning how to start a travel agency: marketing. What sets your agency apart? You’ll have to answer that question successfully if you want to last beyond the startup phase.
On the other hand, you can join Fora as an independent travel advisor and we’ll teach you how to market your travel business like a pro. Wondering how travel agents get clients? We'll help you there, too. You’ll still be in charge of virtually every aspect of your business, plus you’ll have access to unwavering technical support, awesome supplier programs, an in-house booking platform… the benefits go on and on. Plus, you don’t have to worry about obtaining travel licenses, office overhead, hiring staff and other tasks that are critical to running an agency.
How to start a travel agency: FAQs
Before we wrap up, here are a few answers to commonly asked questions about how to start a travel agency.
How much does it cost to start a travel agency?
There’s no straightforward answer to this question because it depends on your target market, location (especially if you’re starting up in a big city, where office space is costly) and numerous other factors.
Ballpark estimates suggest that you’re going to have to spend, at a minimum, several thousand dollars to start your own agency. On the other hand, you can spend a fraction of that, enjoy the perks of an established host agency and start making money right away as a Fora Advisor.
What are the legal requirements for starting a travel agency?
The legal requirements for starting a travel agency vary by jurisdiction.
Generally speaking, you’ll need to register your business as you would any business, then check to see if there are additional licenses or certifications both where you’re based and anywhere you hope to book travel to for your clients.
What skills & traits are necessary to run a travel agency?
To start and run a successful travel agency, you’ll need to be very business savvy. There’s no way around it. In today’s economy, it’s also prudent to either possess or have access to a team with excellent technical skills.
Conversely, what does it take to become a travel agent? To become a Fora Advisor, all you need is a passion for travel.
Starting a travel agency can be risky
Simply put, there’s no guarantee that starting your own travel agency will be successful. The endeavor requires colossal effort and capital.
On the other hand, becoming an independent travel advisor is a ticket to one of the best jobs in the travel industry. You still get to live out your passion for travel. You still get to be your own boss. And the risks involved are, frankly, negligible compared to the risks involved in starting a travel agency.
Overall, is starting a travel agency from scratch worth it?
This is a question only you can answer. But we will say that becoming an independent travel agent has much less ambiguity around it (and is far more fun, especially at Fora).
P.S. Check out the myths about becoming a travel advisor.
Does it make more sense to sign with a host agency like Fora?
Absolutely. (What can we say?) There are a lot of reasons to become a Fora travel advisor. But it’s monumentally easier to become an independent travel advisor with Fora than to start your own agency, and this factor is a big one.
Startup costs are minimal
Starting an agency is going to, at a minimum, cost thousands of dollars. Startup costs to become a Fora Advisor are limited to our membership fee, which currently costs $49 monthly or $299 annually.
How much does it cost to become a travel agent? Our guide spells it out.
You don’t have to worry about as many licenses and fees
Blanket statements about government licenses and fees are dangerous to make, but it’s true that as a Fora Advisor, you’ll have to worry much less about this sort of thing than if you start a travel agency from scratch.
Fora’s licenses allow independent agents to operate as extensions of Fora, thus circumventing most or all (depending on where you live and sell travel) licensing requirements.
You can start making money right away
Seriously. And considering it could be months or years before a new company can turn a profit, this is a massive advantage.
Fora provides all the training & certification you need to be successful
When you learn how to start a travel agency, you’re largely going about it alone. But when you join Fora, we've got your back, providing you with an inclusive, experienced community, travel agent training, travel agent certification and more.
This training teaches you everything you need to know to become successful as a travel advisor, from simple concepts such as booking commissionable hotels to more advanced subjects like multi-destination itinerary planning.
You’re still in complete control of your business as a travel advisor with Fora
We mean no bookings quotas (unless you join our elite Fora X program), and no set schedules. And you can work from anywhere, so long as you have an internet connection.
Want a travel side hustle? No problem. Want to make a full-time career out of selling vacations? Consider it done.
At Fora, you’re still very much in charge of how and when you sell travel — just as if you started your own travel agency.
Skip learning how to start a travel agency — become a Fora Advisor today
Want to be a successful travel advisor? Don’t worry about learning how to start a travel agency — join one of the best and start selling travel right away. All you have to do is apply to become a Fora Advisor today.
Need more convincing? Check out these additional travel advisor resources: