So, I was approached with the idea of doing this monthly column “detailing the struggles and successes of running a travel agency” and thought…why not? But before getting in to the day-by-day and week-by-week, I wanted to start with “How did I end up here?” I don’t yet know who the other contributors will be, or their stories. I assume it will be a cross-section of the industry, with home-based and brick and mortar, long standing and newcomer, etc., represented. I am the new guy. And the “home-based” guy. Although I don’t particularly care for that term, as I don’t think it reflects how I (and my IC’s) do business. We don’t sit at home in front of a computer and a landline. Thanks to technology, we can do business with anyone, anywhere, from a smart phone. I can conduct business at home, while grocery shopping or coaching a baseball game. And thanks to the Internet, and more particularly social media, geography is no longer a factor, either in selling travel or in recruiting and managing IC’s. We have agents in California, Florida, New Hampshire, and everywhere in between. We keep in touch by email, phone and mostly thru social media. We are truly Mobile Agents.
But back to the “how I got here” thing. I became a travel agent about 9 years ago. A combination of factors forced me to sell my prior business and return home to California. Looking for a “real” business that could be run from home, I did a lot of research and decided that being a home-based travel agent was the best fit for me. I have travelled a lot, and spent my whole life selling stuff, so I had the most basic qualifications. I then did more research and settled on a Host Agency with about 500 agents and an owner who was quite approachable and believed in minimal bureaucracy. Things were going fine for a few years, and I was building a solid book of business, when, for some reason my Host Agency decided to “merge” with a franchise of the largest, most bureaucratic and stifling corporation in the world of travel. And, of course, this franchise was owned by a guy with a proven track record of hating travel agents; having started, and lost to bankruptcy, a cruise line with 5 great little ships (all of which are now making money for other cruise lines) because he wouldn’t work with travel agents. So, 3 months in to that, I sent in my termination notice.
But my original Host, who still worked for the new agency, convinced me to give it another year, because he was going to fix things. So I stayed. For a year. Then I quit. Of course, during this time I had started running most new bookings thru a couple of other agencies, so I could make a clean break. And that was working okay, until one of those other agency owners and I had a little dispute. At that point, I decided it was time (again) to quit working for other people-something I’ve never been very good at doing. Another agent (my current partner) had the same thought, and we determined to team up and see just how daunting a quest it would be to start a new, independent travel agency with a network of independent contractors. Just a little over a year ago, Bridges & Holman was born.
Honestly, it was both easier and more difficult than I had thought. Fortunately, I am a serial entrepreneur, and was prepared for the fact that everything will cost twice as much and take twice as long as expected. I have dealt with licensing, bonding, insurance, etc. There were a few missteps, of course. Bridges is in Pennsylvania, and I am in California. I was pretty sure we wanted to form and headquarter our business in PA, because California is a nightmare of regulation and red tape. Which was good until we tried to sign up with insurance companies. California is one of 14 states that have adopted legislation that allows travel agents to sell travel-insurance-only without a broker’s license. Pennsylvania is not. So, a separate company (Holman Travel) was formed for the sole purpose of getting a California Seller of Travel number and selling insurance. But over the course of a few months we managed to get it all done.
The other major challenge, in deciding to become a Host Agency ourselves, is attracting good agents. I managed to snag a couple of experienced agents right away; but the reality is that a new agency is at the bottom of the commission ladder and has little to offer experienced, producing agents. So you pretty much have to create good agents. Fortunately, recruiting and training is something I have done before.
So, that, in a nutshell, is how I got where I am today. I don’t know what the future will bring, but I can almost predict that this column will deal mostly with how one creates travel agents. In our partnership, my responsibilities include finding agents, convincing them to join us, and then helping them to become the best agents they can be. And that is where most of the struggles and successes, the agony and the ecstasy, the ups and the downs are today.
But, hey…I’ll check in a month from now, and we’ll see if that’s still true.
Dave Holman is a Partner at Bridges & Holman Worldwide Travel, based out of Southern California, with 9 years experience in the travel industry. He will draw on his past experience as a serial entrepreneur, as well as his time as a hosted agent at Coral Sands Travel and Expedia Cruise Ship Centers/OVC, as he builds and manages his (relatively) new Host Agency. You can contact Dave via his website at www.holmantravel.com, or better yet, through his Facebook page at www.facebook.com/DaveHolmanTravel.