PHOTO: Travel agents can make the world their oyster either independently or in a group. (photo courtesy of Thinkstock)
When becoming a travel agent, one of the biggest questions they need to ask is: should they partner with an agency or fly solo?
Margie Lenau began her career with a brick-and-mortar agency as a home-based agent. At one point, she thought of becoming an in-house agent, but she realized that she was earning more money working from home.
“Eventually, I got my own industry number to use for suppliers with set commissions, not based on volume,” said Lenau, owner of Wonderland Vacations. “I was willing to become my own agency and not give up a commission split. Then I left them for an online host that had the highest commissions I could find for the suppliers that awarded higher percentages based on sales.”
She said that she is using the best tools that she can find to not only make more commissions for the same bookings, but also to offer her clients better amenities. “For example, group bookings for cruises offer onboard credits and discounts that I couldn't get any other way, and there are many offered by my online host,” she explained. “The disadvantage is that it is more back office work to keep the certifications and licenses that you need. Sales have to justify this arrangement. It wouldn't make sense if you were a part-time agent, in my opinion.”
Greg Antonelle’s wife was once working for a company and decided to branch out on her own too when the other company declared bankruptcy. “It was a learning experience that we have grown from and utilize that experience to make sure we have the best partnership possible with our independent contractors,” said the managing director of MickeyTravels, LLC. “The advantages of partnering with other agents is that you have so many other people to learn from and work with. Friendships are developed and trust is built. Nobody can be an expert on everything, so partnering with other agents is tremendously beneficial.”
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Ronda Zeneri has been a Cruise Planners’ franchise owner for 16 years and said it was the best decision she ever made. “Cruise Planners has a fabulous home office staff that provides me with website, direct marketing, email blasts, technology, and support for my business,” she said. “I have a business coach through Cruise Planners, who is there to offer support and helps me promote my business. They offer training opportunities and the ability to connect with cruise line and travel executives. With Cruise Planners taking care of all of this for me, it allows me to devote time to helping my clients plan their vacations. I can’t imagine how I would ever have time to sell travel if I had to do all of this myself.”
Rhonda Day said that selling travel is fun and exciting, but can be very complicated. “While it may work for others, going it alone was not something I was interested in doing,” said Day, a Dream Vacations Franchise Owner and Vacation Specialist with Vacation Days Travel. “Franchise and host agencies enable you to be part of a large network of agents which means buying power and potentially higher commissions. You also have an entire group of people in your home office/headquarters working for you, whether this be helping with marketing or public relations, handling the processing of your commissions, being there for you when your clients have a travel emergency and much more.”
Parker Villas has partnered with many companies outside of travel agencies and continues to do so. “Smart partnering is a force multiplier,” said Mario Scalzi of Parker Villas. “When each side complements the other, everyone benefits. The vast majority of Italy villa vacations require a rental car. Partnering with Auto Europe (the largest wholesaler of overseas car rentals in North America) for 20-plus years has allowed both organizations to reach new clients with tailored promotions. Customer trust is enhanced and intelligent co-marketing far outperforms any type of advertising. Over the years Parker has also partnered with TravelSmith clothing outfitters, The New Yorker magazine and WGBH Channel 2 Boston, just to name a few.”