Independent Online Travel Agents- Can it be done?
Well the simple answer is, yes. Though it is not going to be easy.
I'm writing this article to share my experience in starting an online travel agency as an independent agent, hopefully this will help anyone else who is looking to get their own started.
Well it all starts with the realization that being the tour guide pays significantly less than being the agent. For years you and I as guides made pittens for week after week of pouring your heart and energy into making sure that every guest has the best experience possible. In specific relation to The Whitsundays in Queensland Australia the crew of tour vessels get paid roughly $10/ hour under the WCBIA overnight charter agreement. Nearly $10/hour under Australia's minimum wage. Though we are not here to talk about that.
Travel agents talk constantly about profits and once you get access to the system it is not hard to see why. A large east coast package for a backpacker could bring in as much as $500 per person profit! Imagine 2 of them a day, a fair jump from $10/hour. This is where it all started for me.
The idea was simple, build a killer website and sell tours. How hard could it be especially considering an independent agent has no managers, ceo's or staff to pay part of the commission to. Well as it turns out, the industry is structured heavily to avoid people like you and me from breaking in, here is what i suggest.
Research! and then research some more.
Find a niche, no matter how much you limit your potential clients you need a niche or else you will simply start and finish with out anybody noticing.
Advertise, if you are not prepared to spend a little money on advertising (even if its Facebook) then forget it.
Offer your clients a different experience, make sure they know where you come from and why you are a travel agent.
Research is key, there are many tools like Google keyword planner that will help you find an untapped market. Scope the competition, sounds immoral, but if you know what they are not doing you will have a better chance at finding your niche. When it comes to advertising you must also do your research, certain industry benefit differently from various forms of advertising. Know where you should be spending your money, and avoid Facebook Ads. Nobody goes on Facebook to buy things, the conversion there will make you cry. As for a different experience, it comes down to you. If you have been in the industry for a long time you probably already know what the customer wants, so give it to them. We can't compete with booking.com, tourradar or any of the other major online agencies in advertising, so you need to give customers an experience that will make them talk about you (in a positive way of course).
My final thoughts on whether a independent agent can make a profitable online business is, well yes. Though it will not be easy, if you have a large social media fan base relevant to the industry it will give you a head start but be prepared to accept the fact that your friends are just too busy to share your posts and promote your business. Be prepared for long nights and advertising costs and good luck to you.