About one-third of Canadian travel agents are now home-based, says Nexion Canada President Mike Foster, “and we expect that number to continue to grow, based in part on U.S. data that estimates that half of all travel agents in that country are home-based.”
We caught up with Foster with a quick Q&A for this issue of Sphere.
1. How can an agent new to home-based find their perfect fit?
Foster: “In my view being home-based is the ideal opportunity for the agent who is comfortable in building and managing their own prospect and client list, and one who is disciplined enough to manage their time and workplace.
“I would suggest that they review their options carefully. Compare working with and without a host in order to ensure they chose the right option for themselves.
“While I believe the right solution for many agents is the hosted model, I do believe that everyone needs to do their own research and ensure it is right for them.
“I also suggest that if they are looking at starting their own hosted business by becoming an independent contractor, that they review all their options.
“Don’t make your decision based solely on the fees and revenue-share. Look at the systems, tools, technology, support, flexibility, autonomy, supplier commissions, and speak to agents who are currently hosted by the company.
“You want to find the right fit for yourself and ensure the right value in your choice.”
2. Why are more travel agents making the jump to home-based?
Foster: “More and more travel professionals are choosing to run home-based businesses. It has increased significantly over the past few years. It is estimated that one-third of Canadian travel agents are home-based, and we expect that number to continue to grow, based in part on U.S. data that estimates that half of all travel agents in that country are home-based.
“There are a variety of factors influencing this growth, such as the rise of mobile technology that helps work get done anywhere. A large reason for the growth though is success building upon success. I believe that as agents have learned more about the business model and have become more comfortable and confident in the opportunity, a home-based travel business is an attractive option.
“It isn’t the solution for every travel agent, but for the right person it provides an opportunity to build their own agency, control their own schedule and workplace, have their own book of business, and have increased income opportunity.”
3. How difficult is it to make this jump?
Foster: “The biggest challenge of entrepreneurship is stepping into the unknown. But for most people it is a far smoother process than they might think.
“Of course, many Independent Contractors seek out a host agency so that they can have the support, tools and education to help them in their journey as independent travel agency owners.”
4. Do home-based agents deal with their own set of challenges that require extensive training?
Foster: “There are certainly challenges, including the discipline of managing one’s own time and schedule and planning for their own business. The challenges are the same as those faced by any entrepreneur starting their own business.
“The great thing about becoming an independent travel professional is that they are building their own business with the help and support of a host agency. I like to say that the agent is in business for themselves, but not by themselves.”
5. What types of support resources are there to help agents transition to home-based?
Foster: “Many host agencies, including Nexion Canada, put a lot of resources in the form of a team of people that help support agents as they have questions and need advice and assistance. In our case, we also have an internal program of training and webinars.”
6. Can a home-based agent make it without the support of a host agency?
Foster: “Today’s travel agent does have a few options. The hosted independent contractor option is one. Another is to be an employee in someone else’s business.
The agent also does have the option of starting their own agency, without being hosted.
“I am occasionally asked ‘What value does your company bring me?’ It is a great question for the agent to consider! The agent who is supported by a host agency is operating their own agency, but they do so with the help of a host’s support team, access to the tools required to effectively and efficiently run their business, access to supplier relationships already established by a large company, on-going training and education, and assistance in marketing and building their business.
“Additionally in a regulated province (Ontario, British Columbia and Quebec) the agent is also able to start their own business without the full cost and reporting requirements that they would have if operating independently of a host.”