The pandemic has caused another big shift towards travel agents becoming home-based agents – and for small agencies – to consider joining host agencies for support to cut costs and perhaps go virtual.
Many agents have been laid off or sidelined by the pandemic and have had time to consider their options for the future.
Agents who have joined host The Travel Agent Next Door during the pandemic have said that it saved their business – and their sanity – because they felt supported. And they say they were able to eliminate a lot of work and costs and have gained the tools and programs to position them strongly for the restart of travel.
If you have been thinking that joining a host agency might be right for you or for your agency, the first thing you must remember is that all host agencies are not alike. Each one is different from the others and the devil, as they say, is in the details.
Before you start your search, you are going to want to develop a checklist so you know what to ask any host company you are thinking of joining.
Contracts & legal considerations
Make sure you ask about the details of the contract you are signing – in particular what is the duration of the contract and is there an “auto-renewal” clause you should be aware of? Some contracts are for two years or more and automatically renew unless you give notice at the appropriate time.
Some host agencies have a non-compete for a year after you leave. That means you cannot sell travel for that year!! In the opinion of most employment lawyers, this is not really enforceable and is probably illegal – not to mention unfair.
You also want to find out what happens to your files, your client list, etc. if you leave the host agency.
Not all marketing programs are the same
There’s a lot to compare when it comes to marketing support and programs. Can you keep your own brand? Do you get your own branded website with your agency contact info? How many booking engines are there – does the host agency have 8 booking engines?
Is there an automated email program that manages client emails for things like birthdays, anniversaries and passport renewals?
Do they offer personal marketing support for websites and social media – and luxury marketing for your luxury clients? Do you have the ability to have travel magazines mailed to your clients automatically?
Is there an E-Store for all printable marketing needs such as ticket wallets, luggage tags, business cards, etc.?
And most importantly, are they promoting YOUR brand – or their brand in all the marketing materials and tactics being sent to your clients?
How responsive is the support team?
Make sure you ask how many employees are assigned to the support desk, as well as what are the hours and days of operation.
Most important, ask what the average turn around time is to answer your questions – is it immediately?
Within 4 hours? Same day? Same week? Check with other agents at that host agency and find out. You need to have support whenever you need it.
Does your host have a state-of-the-art ticketing system?
It is imperative your host agency has a sophisticated automated ticketed system to reduce accounting labour, prevent duplication and errors, avoid debit memos and alleviate your frustration.
Ask if their system does the following: processes fraud checks prior to ticketing; handles auto invoicing and auto ticketing; delivers email confirmations to multiple recipients and sends check-in emails 24 hours in advance of departure.
Also ask if their system sends both standard HTML and mobile itineraries and invoice options to automatically deliver booking confirmations to the traveler via their preferred method.
And do they offer a set of tools to help your traveler manage their journey through devices and software they already use.
And does the host agency have ticketing agents with extended hours who are able to perform refunds, exchanges and issue group tickets?
How often do you get paid your commissions?
Be sure to ask how often you get paid your commissions – is it monthly – or bi-monthly?