When you live close to a major cruise port, cruising is a natural niche for your agency. Travel Agent Spotlight recently spoke with Toni Anderson about her agency Cruises by Toni, as well as her perspective on the travel industry.
Travel Research Online (TRO): What was your career path before getting into travel, and how did you enter the travel industry?
Toni Anderson (TA): In January 2007 I started to work for a vacation rental company. They told me that selling vacation rentals was required before becoming a travel agent. Of course that didn’t pan out, and I eventually found a host agency in Florida. I was with them for almost two years before getting my own TRUE number through OSSN (now CCRA) in October of 2008, and starting my own agency.
Before travel I worked for a party rental business for approximately 10 years. I always had a desire to sell travel; it just took me some time to get here.
TRO: You now operate a separate host agency as well, correct?
TA: Yes, my agency is Cruises by Toni, but I also operate a separate host agency, Toni Anderson Enterprises, LLC. I started that in late 2009 and we currently have about 25 independent contractors. Cruises by Toni is actually a branch under Toni Anderson Enterprises, LLC.
TRO: Why did you focus on the cruise niche from the beginning?
TA: We are located in Houston, and naturally I have a lot of clients that cruise out of the Port of Galveston. Cruising was also an easier learning curve for me, because I had cruised personally before getting into the industry.
TRO: Is cruising your only niche, or do you have any others?
TA: We added Mexico and Caribbean all-inclusive resorts about three or four years ago; again, because of the ease of flying out of Houston to those destinations. Also, we specialize in groups, cruise, and land. I would estimate that approximately 80% of our business is groups.
TRO: If you could go back and do it all over again, is there anything you know now that you wish you knew back then?
TA: Absolutely! I wish I had a business mentor at the beginning; someone that could have guided me in setting up a business model. For example, helping me decide between franchise, being fully independent, or an IC for a host agency, etc. That would have been a huge help before I opened my agency doors.
And this is part of why I started my own host agency; to guide and mentor others through these decisions at the beginning, instead of letting them stumble through the process blindly.
TRO: What kind of tips would you share with others?
TA: If you are just entering the industry, do your research. Get to understand the different business models, and the advantages and disadvantages of each.
One big tip: think carefully about when you name your business. Rebranding can be very costly and time consuming. Do a lot of research before settling on a name. We now sell all-inclusive resorts, but my agency name is Cruises by Toni. Nowhere does my agency name indicate that we sell anything but cruises.
When entering the industry, it’s also important to evaluate all of the costs involved: association membership fees, licensing, business cards, and other marketing expenses, attending trade shows, education (like The Travel Institute), and always keep in mind the delay before income will be rolling in consistently. I think that’s one of the biggest shocks to some people, how long it takes to get paid after you have a client on the books.
For everyone, new to the industry or who have been in it for years, constantly educate yourself about suppliers, destinations, and how to run a business successfully. And be true to yourself. Be honest enough with yourself to recognize if this is not a good business fit for you. Don’t waste your time and money making it into an expensive hobby.
Susan Schaefer is the owner of Ships ‘N’ Trips Travel located in Tennessee, and specializes in leisure travel with a focus on group travel and charity fundraisers. Through their division Kick Butt Vacations, she focuses on travel for 18 to 23-year-olds. Susan can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (888) 221-1209.