I offer my apologies in advance for what I think will ultimately be a very rambling column on some observations on what I see as the new breed of travel agent. I think the travel industry is in the beginning stages of a renaissance of sorts. For years, we have been lamenting the lack of new blood in the industry and I think it is changing.
I purchased my first agency in 1996 shortly after the airlines began to cut commissions. I still felt there was life in the industry (and for the record I still do); but I was a new type of owner. In the past, many agencies were side businesses used to facilitate personal travel for the owner–certainly not all, but many. Many agencies were owned by the spouses of high-earning professionals seeking to take advantage of the discounts and freebies offered by travel partners—when they were actually partners. But that was not my motive. I was in it to provide a living for my family, make a profit; and then after all was said and done, perhaps partake in some of the dwindling perks. When I bought my first agency, the inherited IATA list for a $2.5 million agency had 53 names on it. We had 6 employees. The rest, I was told, were independent contractors. And oddly enough they all either lived in the neighborhood of the former owner or shared the same last name. I am still in the travel business for the same reasons I was back then—to make money and provide for my family. And, thankfully I have been successful enough to do just that.
Last week, I was emailing with a woman who was looking to write some TRO Point-To-Point columns. She sent a link to her website which explained what she did, how she worked, her successes and skills. I was slightly unsure if her columns would be a better fit for Point-To-Point or in Agent Perspectives since it appeared that her experience leaned more toward agent, than industry expert.
As it turned out, she is actually what I think is a new breed of travel agent. She is relatively new to the industry (3 or 4 years) and has seen a great deal of success in defining her business, charging fees, and providing outstanding service to her clients. Her successes did not go unnoticed and eventually, others began to ask her how she did it. And at that point, her related business of travel consulting to agents was hatched. As I looked around various agent-only forums and groups on Facebook, I found that many are operating not only as travel agents, but consultants on different areas in which they excel. One woman is working with other agencies on developing affinity groups. A gentleman with a background in the tech sector is consulting about SEO and social media marketing. Another agent who produces incredible videos on a shoestring budget is doing paid webinars.
While the argument can be readily made that earning a travel living is more difficult due to reduced commissions, increased online competition, and other factors; I think that we are evolving into a true multi-task workforce. In corporate America, few things are ever guaranteed. Things change very swiftly in the travel industry that having a “plan b” makes considerable sense. Today’s travel business owner is seeing it as just that—a business. However, they are also actively seeking out additional streams of income to bolster their income. What is particularly exciting is the level that these new agents are willing to share their expertise. I remember when fees were just coming into vogue and everyone was so tight lipped about their fee schedules. No one ever wanted to share any information because it might be used as ammunition for “the enemy.” But not so much any more. The industry is evolving into a more collaborative industry and finally realizing that we can learn and feed off each other. As the old adage goes…there’s enough pie for everyone to have a slice!