So you want to be a travel agent. It sounds like a total dream job, right? And you’ve heard that all you need is a laptop, a love of travel, and passion to get started!
Well … not so fast. It’s true that becoming a travel agent has a fairly low barrier to entry. You don’t need a special degree, and yes, you can work from home in your slippers 😉
But that doesn’t mean becoming a travel agent doesn’t require an investment, both in terms of your time and your money.
The truth is, when you become a travel agent, you become an entrepreneur. Creating your own business isn’t easy! But when done right, it can be so rewarding … you get to create the flexible lifestyle of your dreams, share your passion with others (and make their dreams come true), and pocket some serious moola. But to be successful in this business, you have to treat it like a business. Before you jump in, let’s get real about how much it really costs to become a travel agent.
How to Become a Travel Agent: The Real Start-Up Costs
Do you really want to know how to become a travel agent? Here’s what you need to get started a travel pro (a laptop and a dream not included):
1. A website:
Unless you’re working out of a storefront agency — which is pretty unlikely these days — your website IS your storefront.
And let’s be real: If you did have a brick and mortar agency, would you ever claim that you were “open for business” if you didn’t have any signage out front, your office lights were flickering, and the front door’s knob was broken? No one would know how to get in … which wouldn’t really matter, since no one would want to.
Not having a professional website as a travel agent sends the same message. Without a website (or a website that doesn’t look professional), your travel business just looks sketchy. Plus, your website is your marketing home base — it’s where you establish your unique value, and it’s where you control the message (you can’t say the same about social media). As the foundational piece of your travel agent marketing, a professional website is a must even for new agents.
The good news? “Professional website” doesn’t have to cost you your life savings. Still, I highly recommend working with a well-qualified designer. To save money, you may be able to use a template and get a designer to create a “semi-custom” website for you. And by the way, the free website that your host agency provides? Chances are, it’s not very good … and not very professional. I’d recommend investing in your own. Remember, your travel agent website should sale YOUR expertise — not suppliers. (And btw, if you don’t know what a host agency is, hang tight — I’ll tell you in a sec).
- Low-range cost: $100-300 for a template (that you’d probably have to implement yourself)
- Mid-range cost: $1500-2500 for a semi-custom site by a designer
- High-range cost: $4000+ for a custom, completely branded site with customized interior pages
2. Professional website copy:
Okay, you’ve got a template or web designer in mind … you’re well on your way to your very own travel agent website!
Woah. Not so fast. You may be forgetting the most important part of your website: the copy. I.E. The words on your webpage! Without them, you’ve just got an online collection of travel photos. And while they may be pretty, they’re not going to get you new travel clients.
I find that many travel agents dive into their new websites thinking they’ll just write their own copy. But then the web designer asks for the copy … and before they know it, a whole six months — or even a year! — has gone by. A severe case of writer’s block hits and they just totally stall on writing their website.
Why is it so hard for them to write their travel agent website copy? Well, for a lot of reasons — but I think the biggie is simply that it’s really hard to write about yourself. You’re not sure that you can be objective about who you are and what kind of amazing service you offer … so you might undersell yourself. Or you might dive into writing your website copy by telling your entire life’s story, but then you start to wonder, “is this all too much?” (Hint: it probably is).
With the right words targeted to the right audience, your website could be your biggest sales tool. That’s why I recommend you work with someone who is not only a “good writer,” but a strategic marketer who knows how to position your travel business as THE solution to your ideal clients’ travel woes.
Obviously, it’s not a surprise that I’m recommending you work with a pro here, since I’m a professional copywriter myself! Though if you do choose to go the DIY route, please think strategically about your copy. BEFORE you even start writing, you should:
And decide what the “point” of each web page will be. What do you want your web visitor to do after reading your web page? You’ve gotta know this before you start writing!
- Low-range cost: $150-250 for a copy critique call to make sure you’re on the right track with the copy you’ve written
- Mid-range cost: $1000-2000 for custom, researched copy for your core web pages, like home, about, and services pages
- High-range cost: $2200+ for complete copy, including all interior pages like destination spotlights, IC bios, etc.
[Drawing a blank when it comes to what to write on your website? CLICK HERE to get your Free Travel Agent Website Checklist]
3. Professional headshots:
You want to attract travel clients that value expertise? Then you’ve got to look like an expert. That starts with having PROFESSIONAL photos of you on your website. Not some iPhone outtakes snapped by your cousin, who’s so good at selfies.
I know, I know. So many of us hate having our pictures taken! But this is worth it. Sharing travel dreams and desires with you — not to mention handing over credit card details — takes a lot of trust on the part of your clients. Having a professional headshot helps establish you as a trustworthy advisor who takes your travel business seriously.
- Low-range cost: approx. $100-200 for 1-2 headshots
- Mid-range cost: $250-450 for a set of headshots
- High-range cost: $500-1000+ for full photoshoot, on-location with multiple outfit changes
4. A logo:
Oh, you thought we were done with all your start-up marketing needs? Nope! You still need a logo, that visual representation of your travel biz to tie it all together. Some people think that if they hire a web designer to create a website, that will include the logo — but that’s often not the case. Read any website package details carefully to see if branding is included.
If it’s not, I think this is the one start-up cost you can get away with relatively cheaply. Sites like Fiverr and 99 Designs are teeming with freelance designers offering up their services for less than 300 bucks (often less than $100 on Fiverr). Yes, it’s a bit of a pain to find the gems on these sites, but it will save you a bit. You can always upgrade your logo in a year or two, without having to totally re-design your online presence.
- Low-range cost: $20-50 on a site like Fiverr
- Mid-range cost: approx. $300 from a designer or on a site like 99 Designs
- High-range cost: $700+ for complete branding from a design pro
5. A host agency:
No man is an island. That goes for travel agents! The vast majority of agents belong to host agencies, which offer back office support and negotiated commission rates with suppliers. In exchange, agents typically pay a monthly and/or yearly fee plus a commission split with the host agency. A great place to do host agency shopping is at Host Agency Reviews. (Pssttt, agents who’ve been around the block — are you a fan of your current host agency? Share your recommendations in the comments below!).
And by the way, be wary of host agencies that put more of a premium on recruiting other agents than actually selling travel. Those aren’t host agencies … they’re pyramid schemes.
- Cost: varies widely — and you’ll also want to take into account how much of a commission split the host agency requires
6. Licensing fees:
This is ABOVE the typical fees you’ll need to pay to form any sort of small business. A handful of states require travel agents to obtain a seller of travel license before they can sell travel. Some of these states require this special license even if the agent doesn’t reside in the state, but serves clients who live there. That’s pretty common when you’re not a brick and mortar travel agency — you have clients all across the U.S.! Be sure to factor these fees into the cost of becoming a travel agent.
- Cost: varies by state, but ranges from $15 (Iowa) to $300 (Florida)
The life of a travel entrepreneur can get pretty lonely — and confusing. That’s why finding yourself a community, whether virtual or IRL (that’s “in real life” in internet speak) — is so important for your success. A place you can go to get feedback on your marketing ideas, solicit honest opinions on travel suppliers, and just vent when you need to (or celebrate your business wins!).
- Low-range cost: Free (like free Facebook groups)
- Mid-range cost: $200-500 — the cost for community membership programs or the cost to attend industry events
- High-range cost: $2000 — group coaching programs
There are, thankfully, soooo many virtual communities for entrepreneurs these days — plus a handful just for travel pros. I’ll quickly plug the Global Institute for Travel Entrepreneurs (GIFTE), a marketing and business membership community for travel entrepreneurs at all stages of business. I actually got my start working in the travel industry as GIFTE’s marketing associate several years ago! Check them out, and if you know of any other supportive groups — or any other resources for those just starting in the industry — please share them in the comments below!