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The Truth About Becoming an Independent Travel Agent


It’s scary taking the first leap into the depth of self-employment without any clue on where to go from there. The good news is, you’re off to a solid start.

You did the hard part: you decided to embark on a new career path.

Now, dig up that list of requirements for your “ideal job,” and it might read a little something like this:

  • Flexible schedule

  • Long-term career

  • Helps people

  • Comfortable

  • No cubicle!

  • Supportive network

  • Great pay

  • Awesome travel benefits

This sounded crazy when you started writing it, but now, you realize this is actually achievable. These traits are basically a mirror image of the benefits you’d have in a career as an independent travel agent.

So how do you turn this dream into a reality?

It’s a challenge trying to sift through all the advice out there to find clear instructions on how to become an independent travel agent. That’s why we’ve filtered through the resources to provide you with the truth, challenges and all, so that you can take your next steps.

What is an Independent Travel Agent?

The perks of being your own boss are quick to entice, but before you start ordering your business cards, it’s important to understand the basics. We’ll start with one of the most important questions:

What is an independent travel agent?

If you break down the job title word-for-word, you can easily get a sense of what your role as an independent travel agent will be.

“Independent” refers to being self-employed. You are your own boss, akin to a contracted worker, and therefore are not technically an employee of any other agency.

Obviously, you work in the field of travel, creating customized itineraries for trips by offering the best recommendations for every aspect along the way. Travel agents can narrow the scope of this definition by specializing in a niche, like honeymoons, luxury, family, adventure, European, or multigenerational vacations.

As an agent, you are a trusted resource from which clients learn about travel and travel services. It is your responsibility to build relationships with suppliers around the world so that you can offer their services. Of course, a love of travel is a necessary passion to become an independent travel agent, but it will not be your defining feature.

More than anything, an independent travel agent is a salesperson. You will be working off of commission after all.

However, because travel is an intimate and expensive endeavor, your purpose will not be to get your clients to book as quickly as possible.

Instead, you have to provide them with all of the tools at your disposal to plan the best trip possible.

Are You Ready to Become an Independent Travel Agent?

One of the great things about becoming an independent travel agent is that it can be done from anywhere. That being said, it takes more than giving yourself the title to succeed.

As an independent travel agent, your clients rely on your experience and advisement.

Don’t worry, there is no need to start counting all of the stamps in your passport. While it is helpful to be well-traveled, it is more important that your travel knowledge is driven by your passion for it.

You are the expert, and you must convey your expertise through confidence in what you are selling.

Beginning with prior sales experience and an entrepreneurial spirit will get you far. Whether you served in a restaurant or worked in a retail store, those customer service experiences will all work toward your success.

If you don’t know where to start, try offering up your travel agent skills to the people you are already connected with. Become the one creating detailed itineraries. Learn to anticipate people’s needs. This experience will help build your rapport with future clients.

3 Major Benefits of Becoming an Independent Travel Agent

One word: Independence.

It is something everyone craves in their career, but few are able to experience it completely while working as an employee.

As a contracted worker you have complete control over when, where, and how you conduct business. Whether you work from home or decide to rent a private office space, it is completely up to you.

You make the rules.

The freedom of being your own boss may have drawn you to learn how to become an independent travel agent. But it is not the only perk of this profession.

Here are a few more benefits that you can take advantage of:

  1. Steady income: According to Statista, revenue from travel agencies is expected to reach over $17 billion by 2020. There is a large earning potential for independent travel agents since your income is comprised of commission, service fees, and consultation fees. Also, as an at-home agent, you are eligible for tax deductions.

  2. Travel perks: Also known as FAM trips. These “familiarization” trips are provided at reduced rates by suppliers. The purpose is to use the trip as a learning tool to understand the supplier’s services and products. In addition, FAM trips will give you firsthand knowledge to pass down to your potential clients and a chance to learn the tricks of the trade.

  3. Travel discounts: Travel agents also enjoy a wealth of discounts from hotel stays to renting a car. One way to start generating discounts is to legitimize yourself with an IATA card.

Among the tangible benefits, becoming an independent travel agent is also a fulfilling career choice. People are choosing you to plan one of the best experiences of their lives, and that is rewarding.

The True Challenges of Becoming an Independent Travel Agent

Be forewarned, though the benefits heavily tip the scale in one direction, there are challenges to becoming an independent travel agent just like any other profession.

One of the main hurdles is the investment of time and money you must make when starting out. There are start-up costs, host agency fees, and other upgrades you may need to consider.

As a contractor, you do not receive traditional employee benefits. The payment structure for independent travel agents may take time to get used to as well. It is commissioned-based, and often, those commissions are not paid to you until after your client returns from their trip.

It takes time to build your business.

Becoming an independent travel agent is a long-term endeavor, and if you are willing to put in the time, it can be your career for life.

What Becoming an Independent Travel Agent is All About

Independence does not mean that you are alone.

One of the common misconceptions about this career choice is that you will have no support.

However, the role of an independent travel agent is defined by their relationships. Relationships with your clients, suppliers, and most importantly your host agency, are all essential components of your success.

Client Relationship

You can think of your role as an independent travel agent more like a consultant. Your clients, both new and returning, will rely on the recommendations you give them when planning their soon-to-be cherished experiences.

This relationship requires a large amount of trust, understanding, and openness. On your part, it is also about listening and reading people to provide them with experiences they will love. Fostering these relationships is what will secure your business.

Supplier Relationship

The largest portion of your income will derive from booking with suppliers. Remember the FAM trips you took advantage of? More than anything, those trips are learning experiences.

Suppliers and independent agents work together to compile the perfect trip for each client. As an independent travel agent, it is up to you to understand what type of vacation packages you are offering so you can advise based on true experience.

Agent-supplier relationships are beneficial to everyone.

You will have first-hand knowledge to pass down to each client so that together, you can plan the best experience possible. Plus, the more clients you send, the more both you and the supplier financially benefit.

Host Agency Relationship

In your quest to become an independent travel agent, finding the right host agency is like finding the North Star. The right agency will work with you, guiding you through the challenges, and creating a clear path for success.

Host agencies are a key partner to help you become a successful independent travel agent. They help legitimize you as an agent, especially early on, and provide access to resources and their established network.

Host agencies can also provide marketing and promotional materials, training, recording keeping, and support along the way.

How to Build the Perfect Travel Agent/Host Agency Relationship

Now that you know the truth about becoming an independent travel agent, it’s time to take the first step: finding the right host agency.

While the importance of a fair commission should not be downplayed, it is vital to factor in other characteristics of your potential host agency that are just as important.

Not all host agencies are created equal.

They vary greatly in their size, benefits, and dedication to their agents. When researching the best agency for you, it is important to ask yourself:

  • What size agency do I want to work with?

  • Do they offer training?

  • Are there marketing opportunities?

  • What is the agent/agency relationship like?

Everyone has different goals. That’s why when you’re starting out as an independent travel agent, your goals should align with the agency you choose. When Travel Quest Network began hosting agents in 1998, they made sure that working closely with their agents to reach a common goal was the focus of their business.

Today, they continue to fulfill that goal by serving over 1,200 agents in the US. Travel Quest Network offers training, technology resources, marketing, and flexible pricing plans that range from 70-100% commission in the agent’s pocket.