Here at UNIGLOBE Travel Center I’ve spoken with thousands of experienced travel agents, as well as potential agents looking to get into the travel industry. Regardless of their experience level, a common theme is that almost all are a bit overwhelmed with the amount of information and number of hosts out there. To help you navigate your way through the overload of information, here are the five most important nuggets of information that I share with agents on their search for the perfect host agency.
1. Reputation and Ethics
A solid ethical reputation in the industry should be the first thing to consider. There are a lot of great host agencies out there, and unfortunately, there are a lot of bad ones. So, how do you sift through them all? The best place to start your research is with the Professional Association of Travel Hosts (PATH). PATH was formed by the leading host agencies in the industry as a way to establish and enforce the highest ethical standards among host agencies. You can be assured that the members of PATH are reputable companies. The high standard of entry into PATH means you won’t find a dreaded MLM (multi-level marketing) company hiding in there. If you want to be taken seriously as a travel agent, then steer clear of MLMs. If a “host agency” is strongly encouraging you to sign up other people under you, and telling you all the rewards you will get if you do, …run! Your job is to be a travel agent, not a recruiter for their company. Now, that doesn’t mean you cannot have other travel agents under you. If you want to grow your business it is logical that at some point you may want sub-agents. Hosts will allow you to have sub-agents, but the difference is that this is not their goal for you. Their goal is to help you sell travel and then let you make your own decisions about being a business owner and hiring or contracting additional agents. You can check out a list of PATH host agency members here: Path4Hosts.com
Be sure to ask any host you are considering about their support services, and don’t be afraid to ask about the staff specifically. You want a team behind you that is competent and responsive! Some example questions are: What hours is support available? What is the procedure if you need help on nights or weekends? How experienced are the members of the staff? Feel free to ask how long they have been in the industry and how long they have been with the company. Another key line of questioning is about commissions, like asking when they pay commissions, how they pay commissions, and if they pay promptly. Now this last one is hard to tell, because every host is going to tell you that of course they pay on time! To find out if they really do, check out my bonus tip at the end!
3. Supplier Relationships
In the travel industry, relationships are everything! This is especially true when it comes to suppliers. Each host agency will have their list of preferred travel suppliers with whom they have established contracts with. Find a host that not only allows you to have direct contact with their preferred supplier representatives, but encourages it. You should feel comfortable calling or emailing a preferred supplier’s BDM (business development manager) if the need arises; like questions about their products, or problems you are having with that supplier. This doesn’t mean the BDM becomes your support line when you can’t remember your login, but it does mean that supplier knows you personally and can help elevate your experience and therefore your client’s travel experience. Another perk is that by building a relationship with them, those suppliers can recognize you personally for your business. Something that experienced agents dislike about hosts is that they feel they don’t get the personal recognition by being under a host agency. At my company we make sure our BDMs make an effort to recognize their individual high performers, and the host you choose should do that as well!
4. Business Development and Client Acquisition
Bottom line, it doesn’t help to know how to book travel if you don’t have any clients to book for! Be sure to ask a host how they assist you in building up your book of business. Do they provide any marketing tools? Do they have marketing assistance or coaching to help you build a sustainable business? These are the most important things to know so that they can work with you to develop a sustainable business model and marketing strategy. However, the question I get asked most is if we provide leads. Everyone wants to know about leads, and I get it, it feels safer when you have someone handing you business. But, find out exactly what you are getting with those leads. It’s important to know if the commission structure changes if you make a booking off one of their leads. Ask if you own that lead or the host does. Most of the time if a host agency provides a lead to you, they “own” that client. So if in a year, or ten years, you decide to leave that host, you cannot take that client with you. And in some cases, if that lead they provided refers someone else, they own that referred client as well. Also consider that just because you are getting leads, there is no guarantee that they are quality leads. If leads are important to you, just be sure to get a clear picture of the strings attached.
5. Gut Instinct
Here is my most simple, yet most important piece of advice: Go with your gut. Very scientific, I know! You need to do your research, and the best way to do that is to get on the phone with your short list of hosts. This is so important! It is the only way you’re going to get the details you need, but it is also the only way to feel them out and determine if you gel with them. Look, the reality is every decent host has the tools and technology you need. What is going to make the difference is how comfortable you feel with your host. You have to choose the host you feel the most connected to, because if they are a good host, then you will have a close personal relationship with them. You may be talking to them a lot, so it better be someone you like! Ultimately, it has to “feel” like the right fit. So do your research and then trust yourself.
As I mentioned above, it can be hard to feel out a host based only on the info they are providing to you. They will of course be putting their best foot forward. So to help see what is fact and what is exaggerated, start by reading reviews. Two great resources for reviews are Find A Host Travel Agency and Host Agency Reviews. With these review sites you can read what current agents have to say about their host. Usually this will give you a great feel for what they do best, because many of the reviews will have similar themes throughout. Second, ask for references; other agents with that host whom you can contact directly. Now you may be thinking, “What good would that do? They are just going to direct me to their most loyal Agents.” Well, of course they are. But that doesn’t mean the agents will be dishonest. These agents have been where you were once, so they understand what you need to know. If a host hasn’t been treating them well, like paying on time, that agent will lose their loyalty quickly and be annoyed enough to tell you how it really is. If a host won’t give you contact info to speak with other agents currently in their network, be cautious.
So there you have it! I really hope those tips help you on your search to find the host agency that is perfect for you. For any more info or tips please feel free to reach out to me personally. Happy hunting!
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UNIGLOBE Travel Center