This story originally ran in the April 19, 2018 issue of Travelweek magazine. To get Travelweek delivered to your agency for free, subscribe here.
TORONTO — Just five years ago, industry experts pegged the percentage of home-based agents in Canada to be around 25%. Today, that figure sits at around 35%, a significant uptick and an encouraging figure for those who’ve always dreamed about setting their own hours and working from home.
And why wouldn’t they? The perks of being home-based run the gamut, especially with host agencies providing 24/7 support. From Flight Centre Independent to TPI, to Nexion Canada, The Travel Agent Next Door, TravelOnly and more, there’s a vast system in place to support the needs of home-based agents and provide comprehensive training, whether they’re new to the industry or already experienced.
Adding yet another layer of support to this growing segment is Humber College in Toronto, which recently announced its new Home Based Travel Agent Program, a continuing education course that’s done entirely online. Designed specifically for TICO-registered agents who are looking to make the jump to home-based, the seven-week course runs from June 4-July 16, costs $275, and aims to teach participants how to “be their own boss in only seven weeks”.
The last date to enroll in Humber College’s Home Based Travel Agent Program is June 3, with registration closing once the class hits capacity at 24. Agents must provide proof of TICO registration upon enrollment.
Humber confirmed on May 4 that registration is still open and spots are still available. For more information go to hrt.humber.ca/ce.
“There is no program out there that’s designed to teach experienced agents how to run home-based agencies,” says Senait Isaac, the course instructor who also runs her own home-based agency, The Travel Link. “The course is designed to set up agents for success, put them on the right track and let them know what their options are in Canada.”
Broken down into seven modules, the Humber course covers topics that range from the role of home-based agents and the advantages/disadvantages of becoming home-based, to marketing platforms, top host agencies in Canada and more. According to Isaac, there’s no better time for a course of this nature to be launched, as it’s never been easier to become a home-based agent.
“Technology and the Internet have made it easier for us to communicate via email and phone. There’s no need for a customer to go into a brick-and-mortar travel agency to get a trip booked anymore,” she says, adding that the many benefits of becoming home-based are becoming too hard to ignore. “People are seeking more flexibility in their schedule and want more of a work-life balance. Plus, brick-and-mortar agencies have a higher overhead cost, which can result in lower profit margins for travel agents. There’s limited earning potential as many brick-and-mortars also offer salary-based positions.”
Mike Foster, President of Nexion Canada, agrees, saying that the increase in home-based agents has been significant over the past few years. “There is a variety of factors influencing this growth, such as the rise of mobile technology that helps work get done anywhere,” he says. “A large reason for the growth though is success building upon success. I believe that as agents have learned more about the business model, a home-based travel business becomes an attractive option.”
Foster is quick to note that becoming home-based isn’t for everyone, but for the right person it provides an opportunity to build their own agency, control their own schedule and workplace, and have their own book of business.
“The biggest challenge of entrepreneurship is stepping into the unknown. But for most people, it is a far smoother process than they might think,” he adds. “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.”
It should be noted that home-based agents can make it on their own, so to speak, without the support of a host agency.
But according to Flemming Friisdahl, Founder of The Travel Agent Next Door (TTAND), it’s an uphill battle. Not only will they need to pay for their own TICO registration (in Ontario) at a cost of about $14,000 for the first year ($10,000 of which is refunded in two years “if you have been good”, he says), they’ll also need a TIDS number at approximately $350 per year, and ACTA and CLIA certification if they want a bookable website.
Then there’s Errors & Omissions insurance for some $1,200 per year, set-up for electronic marketing and the list goes on and on.
“The issue is, if you do it all on your own, you have to figure out all of the above plus stay on top of it monthly, yearly,” he adds. “Now you’re suddenly not selling travel but taking care of all the admin.”
Humber’s new course gives an overview of available host agencies and helps participants determine which one would be right for them based on the resources and tools that they offer.
TTAND, for example, works on ClientLinq, a well-known CRM/accounting system similar to Client Base/Trams. Flemming adds that even though agents with a host agency would pay a percentage split on many products, “agencies like TTAND bring a lot of services and often higher commission levels than an agent on their own would be able to earn.”
Nexion Canada has an internal program of training and webinars in place, not to mention a successful sister company that focuses on training and developing Independent Contractors. “Look at the systems, tools, technology, support, flexibility, autonomy and supplier commissions [of host agencies], and speak to agents who are currently hosted by the company,” says Foster. “You want to find the right fit for yourself and ensure the right value in your choice.”
Once agents go home-based, they will often find that most of their clients will end up following them wherever they go. On agent-client relationships, Friisdahl says: “Most agents have a book of business already, and of those clients usually about 75% will stay with them. It has generally been about the relationship between the agent and the customer, and not the agency.”
The same goes for suppliers, he adds. “Suppliers will support you no matter where you work,” he says, adding that companies like TTAND will work with the agent to help them make the move from storefront to home.
Foster adds: “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.”