How to Start a Travel Agency

Learning how to start a travel agency can result in a lucrative career. According to data from the Travel Industry Association of America (TIA), more than $1.3 million is generated from travel and tourism in the U.S. You can leverage this lucrative market by providing convenient, valuable services to businesses, individuals, and travel groups.

What Is a Travel Agent?

A travel agent is a professional who offers a range of travel-related services. Some of the most common areas of expertise include:

  • Comprehensive arrangement of all travel details, including itineraries that fulfill the client's areas of interest
  • Obtaining the best prices on travel and lodging
  • Making airline reservations, cruise tickets, accommodations, and other arrangements
  • Creating specialized tour packages
  • Planning destination weddings, conventions, and other business and social events
  • Selling travel insurance
  • Consulting with the client about passport and visa requirements for their destination, as well as travel advisories, required vaccinations, and other details
  • Advocating for clients if travel-related problems arise
  • Providing outstanding, detail-oriented customer service

Travel agents earn money through service fees charged to the client as well as commissions paid by the bookings you make for your clients. Many travel agents work from home, while others work in an office location. You'll need to have good software knowledge, extensive customer service skills, and rich and varied travel experience. You can decide to become an independent consultant for a travel agency, own a franchise of an established agency, or start an independent agency. 

Consultants and franchise owners may be limited in the services they can provide, while starting your own agency allows you more freedom and often, higher profit. However, starting your own agency requires more extensive planning and higher start-up costs associated with a home office set-up and initial marketing services as you work to build a clientele, as well as software costs and setting up a website.

Independent agents will also need to apply for an IATA number with the International Air Transport Association. This will allow you to book flights on behalf of your clients.

Advantages of Travel Agents

Clients often choose to use a travel agent since professionals can access supplier and vendor portals that are not open to individual customers. They may also be able to get special promotions and perks that can be passed along to their clients thanks to their close relationships with these suppliers and vendors. If something goes wrong during a client's vacation, the agent will often be able to fix the problem quickly and effectively.

Plan Your Travel Agency

A business plan is the essential first step when starting your own business in any industry. The specific type of plan you'll need depends on the amount of funding you plan to seek. A formal business plan with plenty of detail is required if you're seeking capital from an angel investor or venture capital firm. Opt for a lean business plan if you are starting a business with your own savings. You can also start with a lean plan and add more detail as time goes on. Because the travel industry is quite fragmented, choose a specific niche to help distinguish your new agency from the competition. Writing a business plan can help you establish and work toward your vision. 

Conduct Market Research and Find Your Niche

A thorough examination of the market will help you decide what type of agency is missing, leading you to your niche. This will then help you create a brand, choose a name, and develop other aspects of your fledgling business. Know who your major competition will be and develop a persona that describes the wants and needs of your ideal customer. 

Brand Your Travel Agency

Once you understand your customer, competition, and niche, it's time to develop a strong brand. This will tell your desired customer who you are and help you get a foot in the door of this competitive industry. Choosing a name is an important aspect of your brand, whether you're setting off on your own or working as an independent consultant with a host agency. You'll also need a logo and other marketing materials.

If you need help with the legal aspects of starting a travel agency, you can post your job on UpCounsel's marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or on behalf of companies like Google, Menlo Ventures, and Airbnb.