The Travel Agent Next Door has just over 280 agents after two years in business. More importantly, agents who join The Travel Agent Next Door get the tools they need to grow their business and sell, says company founder Flemming Friisdahl.
1. It’s been just about two years since The Travel Agent Next Door made its debut. How many Travel Agent Next Door agents are there now, and what’s the goal for year’s end?
Friisdahl: “No question we are very excited about hitting the two year mark. I wish I could say it was a walk in the park but it has been a lot of hard work by many of our team. But I am well aware that we would not be here today if it wasn’t for the agents who made the decision to join us and the suppliers who agreed to support us when first started.
“I get the question often, ‘How many agents do you have?’. We are a little over 280 today, and that is great, but the key question is how much we are helping these agents grow and sell, as that is the true measure of our success. To that end we now have 17 staff and we had certainly not expected to be at this level so early. But to support our agents professionally and maintain our service levels, we needed to add people.”
2. There’s a lot of talk about ‘disruptors’ shaking things up in established industries. How have you set yourself apart from other host agencies? Did the industry need a host agency like The Travel Agent Next Door?
Friisdahl: “Great question, I will sound biased no matter what I say, but the answer is yes. I say this based on what suppliers have told me and what agents have told me. I think what The Travel Agent Next Door has brought is a new level of professionalism to independent travel professionals. We have more support than anyone else has, we simple have more programs than anyone else has, we have more marketing than anyone else has and we pay more commission than anyone else does.
“In simple terms we give the agent a much greater chance of success and more importantly, growth, than anyone else does. And in talking to our suppliers, they have told us that we bring a level of professionalism to home based agents that they have not really seen from any other host agency.”
3. Can you tell us a bit more about what you can do for smaller agencies and ‘virtual’ agency startups?
Friisdahl: “I am happy to say that we now support over eight storefront locations and I am sure that 2016 will see that number grow. In simple terms, our Agency Program brings a turnkey solution that saves both existing and brand new storefront locations money. We truly provide everything they need, we have a complete phone system for an office of three people for $60 per month including faxing and toll free numbers. We do all the reporting that is needed to meet TICO requirements, saving most agencies the $3,500 for a TICO auditors report. We also bring comprehensive marketing programs including social media, print and electronics, as well as complete website solutions for $69 per month. We also have E&O insurance, as well as ACTA, CLIA, IATA membership included.
“Honestly, the list goes on. But best of all, we do all the back-end work so the office sells, we focus on posting commission, paying the agents, issuing T4As – quite simply, everything. Oh, and did I mention that we also get the agencies higher commission with suppliers?”
4. In five years’ time, what percentage of Canadian travel agents do you think will be home-based?
Friisdahl: “I am not sure, but based on the stats, based on the trends in the U.S. and UK, I would expect around 35 –40%. So there is a lot more to come in this area.
“Many agents want to make more money, sell to the customers they want to sell to and sell the product they want to sell it and have a better work/life balance. And make more money.”
5. What’s ahead for The Travel Agent Next Door in 2016 and 2017?
Friisdahl: “Doing more of what we have been doing. When we launched two years ago, we started a ‘to-do’ list. This list keeps growing with new ideas and projects. To date we have put 98 of those ideas into practice. This would include paying agents commission in USD currency if we get paid in USD, to creating a referral program – where if friends recommend you to their friends, they would have a travel dollar bank with you – to creating new marketing programs.
“So we will simply do two things 1) listen to what our agents are telling us they need to be successful and 2) keep finding ways to get these ideas out with no cost to the agent. So, as I like to say, keep our head down, stay focused on our agent partners and make sure they are happy with our service.”