So you want to start a travel agency online?
The travel industry is amongst the largest industries in the world and is still growing at a very fast rate. So, there are high chances that your online travel agency will grow well due to the increased demand for services in the industry.
However, the major issue in starting your own travel agency online is that there are a lot of companies that are already well established in this realm.
Think of online travel agency giants like Expedia, Kayak, Travelocity, Orbitz, and FlightHub, to name a few.
Therefore, you must ensure that your online travel agency has a solid foundation for you to keep up with the competition.
In this article, we’ll show you how to start a travel agency online easily and make it successful. So, keep reading to find out.
1. Proper Planning
If you want to start a travel agency online, planning is one of the most crucial things that you must do in advance. Starting an online travel agency or any other business without proper planning and rushing toward your business idea will cost you more than if you would have taken the time to plan the entire process.
Also, remember that you are trying to launch an online travel agency in a competitive industry. Therefore, it is vital that your business is well-planned before you start your business operations.
The planning process mainly depends on the type of travel agency type that you choose to specialize in. If you want to be a home-based travel agent, looking for a host travel agency is the key. You will operate as an independent contractor under a host agency, which will make things easier for you because host agencies already have proven systems and procedures in place, so all you must do is drive traffic of potential leads into your business and use your host agency’s systems to process your travel transactions.
If on the other hand, you choose to take the step by step approach and move gradually into starting your own travel agency online without a host agency, the whole process of building up your own travel business will be quite lengthy.
Whichever method you choose, is of course entirely up to you but keep in mind that your business should be flexible enough to accommodate any new changes in the travel industry.
A travel agency business plan is your guiding force when starting a travel agency online. It makes sure you stick to the path you choose, enabling you to manage your resources wisely and achieve your business goals in an efficient manner.
An effective business plan allows you to set and achieve your travel agency’s short term and long-term objectives that are realistic within a specified period. An online travel agency business plan is crucial.
So, take your time to research about the many different factors on how to start a travel agency online. Like any other business, starting an online travel agency is all about preparation and having the necessary guidance to navigate and swim through the challenges of operating your online travel agency.
Start with a business plan!
Don’t worry, your business plan doesn’t have to be a 3-inch business plan with thousands of pages that no one would ever read.
Make it simple and straight to the point. You can adjust your plans as you get going.
2. Understand Your Niche
If you love to travel or are already in the travel industry; you would agree that there are many niches that you can specialize in when it comes to starting an online travel agency.
Keep in mind that other companies are already in the space; how you attract customers to your budding online travel agency is one of the most important challenges that you’re going to face during your company’s startup phase.
The best thing is to research the many different niches in the travel industry and niche down to where you want to specialize. You can specialize in cruises, sell off vacations, last-minute deals or focus on a specific destination.
Specializing in one niche with high demand will help you land your first couple of clients fast than when you’re trying to compete in the general travel niche.
After researching, understanding, and choosing a niche that you think is most suitable to you and your operations, find ways to make it stand out with a unique marketing approach.
The best way to stand out is to focus and start on a smaller travel agency niche that few of your competitors are utilizing.
Travel, just like the health and fitness niche is a pretty vast niche that you can niche down into a smaller niche and still find a pool of consumers who are able and willing to avail of your online agency’s travel services.
When starting out, focus on getting more than enough experience in the niche as it allows you to understand it better and become an expert in your chosen travel agency niche; giving you the ability to easily spot new market gaps and opportunities.
One of the most effective ways that will help you to get experience is interacting with tourists and clients either face to face or online through video calls and webinars.
Interacting with your clients will help you better understand the issues and challenges they go through when trying to book their perfect vacation and their frustrations when dealing with other travel agents.
This helps you identify the most common problems, giving you the opportunity to come up with the best solutions for frequently encountered issues by every traveler.
By coming up with solutions that improve your customers’ experience with your company, you and your company will slowly build a solid reputation in the industry and will eventually become highly recommended and referred by clients to their friends, relatives, and contacts.
Attending industry events and studying closely the marketing efforts and offerings of other companies who compete in the same niche will also help your online travel agency become more successful.
Industry events help you discover new opportunities that are not currently being offered by other companies within your niche.
For instance, there are a few online travel agencies that offer specialized services to married couples looking for the best places to enjoy their honeymoon. Coming up with exceptional and specialized services to offer such groups of people can help your business to be unique and get more attention hence enabling you to achieve more results.
3. Use A Host Agency
When starting an online travel agency, most people prefer having their accreditation while others use a host agency. Having a professional host agency is the best option, especially when a business is new in the market. Why? Working with a host agency allows you to spend less and save more hence allowing the business to grow faster and with less pressure. A professional host agency will also show you how to be a successful travel agent from home, thus making it the best option. However, if you have vast experience in the travel industry or have worked with an online agency before, then you can choose to get your accreditation.
Below is a list of host agencies that you can tie-up with as an online travel agency owner or a home-based travel agent:
1. Avoya Travel
2. Independent by Flight Centre
3. Cruises Inc.
4. Expedia Cruise Ship Centers
5. Dream Vacations
6. Outside Agents
7. Nexion Travel Group
8. Incentive Connection Travel
9. Outside Agents
10. Cruise Planners
4. Funding Your Online Travel Agency Business
Funding your online travel agency is another major factor to consider when planning to start your own travel agency online.
The capital needed to start and run the business varies on the type of travel agency you want to start. The best thing about starting an online travel agency is that it does not need a lot of money which makes it more affordable.
However, you still need to come up with some sort of capital to help you put your business systems in place.
Since you’re planning to launch your travel agency online; you will most likely, need a website!
If you plan to market your business through SEO (search engine optimization) or content marketing, starting off with a WordPress website won’t cost you that much. All you will need is to subscribe to a good quality hosting service and register a domain name.
Keep in mind, however, that while search engine optimization and content marketing are awesome marketing strategies, it will take some time before you see your first travel commission payout and if you’re not that patient, you may consider putting in some budget into paid advertising.
You may also invest some of your start-up funds into a travel booking software if this is one of the functionalities that you want your website to have.
If aside from your online presence, you also want to promote your business locally, business cards, flyers and print ads all come in handy yet they all equally require some investment.
There are various ways on how you can secure funding for your travel agency online, the best way, of course, is by using your own money; if you don’t have the money right now, you can always save up!
If you want to be more creative, some entrepreneurs have used credit cards, personal loans from banks, loans from friends and relatives and venture capital funding. None of these funding options require any of your own capital but and that’s a big BUT, if everything else fails, you might find yourself knee-deep in debt which in most cases isn’t the situation you’ve hoped for.
Whatever funding strategy you come up with, your start-up funds should be enough to cover your preliminary expenses as well as any unexpected expenses that may come into place to keep your business afloat.
5. Build Your Brand
Creating a brand image is the next crucial stage as the online travel industry is very competitive these days.
Business branding is all about how you want clients and prospects to perceive your online travel agency.
Answering this question precisely will enable you to come up with the best vision for your brand that your target clients will love.
So, you have to give all your clients a better reason why they should opt for your services and not what other similar competitors are offering. One major thing that you can do is to provide a free touring service even it’s just for a day. Doing that attracts many clients to an online travel agency, thus making its brand more popular.
Having a business logo is another effective way of creating a perfect brand image. When creating a logo for your agency, ensure that it’s impressive so it can catch many peoples’ attention and help them differentiate it from others easily.
After creating the best logo, ensure it appears everywhere including on your website, brochures, and advertisements.
6. Sort Out the Legal Stuff
Starting a travel agency online is easier than when you’re opening a brick and mortar travel agency as it would require less licensing permits. However, it’s equally important that you secure the required business licenses before you commence your business operations; legal requirements depends largely on where you are in the world and the type of business you’re launching, so make it a point to inquire with your local city hall or government agencies that regulate business registrations.
Some countries have stricter rules for travel agencies while others only need you to sort minimal legal permits and you are good to go.
Before starting your travel agency online, make sure you research on the specific rules that are specific to your location. Putting the legal stuff out of the way before you get started avoids legal mishaps and issues along the way.
7. Hire Employees and/or Freelancers
If you’re starting small, it’s always a good idea to start solo not unless you have the capitalization enough to hire an employee who may know the business better than you.
Hiring people who are smarter than you, specifically, travel agency professionals will make your life easier as a first-time travel agency business owner but if you don’t have the budget for it, take time to learn the business on your own.
You may need to hire talents on an on-demand basis to take care of more technical stuff like web-designers or graphic artists to help and whatnot.
You don’t have to hire them as on-going employees per se but you can hire freelancers to help you out on a pay per job basis.
You may also need to hire the services of software professionals to help you out with automating travel booking on your online travel agency. These experts make sure that clients get the best experience when they visit your online travel business.
Hiring these experts also allows your website to handle any technical breakdowns effectively hence avoiding issues that might tamper with the normal running of your agency.
As with any other experts, programmers can be hired on an on-demand basis.
There are a lot of websites that you can find these freelancers from, mostly based out of your home country which may help you save money than when hiring a local person.
Where to find Freelancers and Off-shore Employees
You can outsource tasks that you can’t do yourself on the following websites:
I have published an extensive list of freelance websites for those who are looking to build a profitable freelance business. You can use this resource to search for freelancers.
8. Invest in Marketing
When starting your travel agency online, keep in mind that no one knows about your business, except probably your significant other and your mom.
Your job during the start-up phase of your business is to make your target market aware that there is an uprising online travel agency online that caters specifically to their needs.
You must make your target market aware that your company now exists and that it is the right fit for their need(s) over your competitors.
There is a lot of free to cheap online advertising that you can take advantage of in the social media realm.
For instance, you can join Facebook groups of travel aficionados and start participating in the conversations or better yet, start your own Facebook travel group. Just don’t be too salesy when trying to promote in these groups, instead answer questions genuinely and establish your credibility as a travel expert. In other words, be the “go-to” person in these social groups.
You can also pay for Facebook ads to help launch your travel agency online; it will be a good idea to put in place an email page to take full advantage of paid ads so you can promote to these leads repeatedly.
9. Provide Great Customer Service
Marketing campaigns are essential in making a travel agency thrive online or offline but so are healthy relationships.
Creating a strong bond with clients should be among your primary business goals. Having a healthy and robust relationship with clients is vital and will enable your online travel agency to operate efficiently and achieve better results.
Customers want you to assure them that they can trust your agency as it will be responsible for where they stay during their vacations. Convincing clients that they can rely on your services will make them loyal, thus making your business their every time go-to option.
It is, therefore, crucial that you keep communicating with the clients more often. The best way to do that is by sending emails informing them of your special offers and requesting them to respond and tell you what they think.
Also, remind them that you are still thankful for the times they have used your services, and they are important to your agency. Don’t overdo it, however; sending excessive emails to your audience may land your communications in their spam folder. So, send a few interesting emails a couple of times or maybe once a week to make sure you’re in touch with your clients.
If you have employees, you should train your employees to do the same. Getting customers is half the battle, keeping them and selling to them multiple times is the other half and this is only won by giving them the best customer service that you and your employees can.
Too many times that a company loses customers due to bad customer service provided by non-passionate employees.
Train your employees to always be positive and friendly to clients helps through chat, email, phone or even in-person communication if your team meets clients face to face to ensure that your business appears more professional and accommodating compared to others.
This helps you win more clients easily and avoid losing any existing ones.
10. Encourage Clients to Share Content on Social Media
Engaging clients is another significant tip that helps you start a successful online travel agency.
The best way to engage clients is requesting them to send you some pictures that they took during the journey you organized for them.
You can then post the best of these photos on your website to encourage potential clients to use your services too.
Organizing a small competition where one client wins a prize or discount if his/her picture gets picked is another excellent idea.
Doing that will help you to get a lot of amazing photos that you can post on the website to make it more interesting.
Potential customers also want to see some proof that an online travel agency has offered its services to other people before working with it.
So, having some photos to show on your website will be convincing enough hence turning prospects to clients.
11. Make Use of Blogging and/or Content Marketing
Blogging is among the best ways you can use to reach out to potential clients when starting a travel agency online. You can start a blog that focuses on providing useful and informative content articles about tourism, travel, or anything that revolves around your niche and the services your travel agency offers.
The best thing about having a blog is that it not only helps promote your business on the internet, but it also builds your brand and credibility to your prospects.
By investing time, energy, and maybe money in delivering high quality, informative content that is related to your niche, you build your target market’s trust and confidence in your business as an established company and experts in your niche.
The best way to promote your business by using a blog or content marketing is to focus on keywords that your target market use to search for information that is related to your agency’s services.
Hitting on-demand keywords helps your blog post rank higher on search engines which gives your business more visibility on keywords your audience search when trying to find businesses like yours.
This is called search engine optimization or SEO. Of course, there is more to SEO than just hitting the right keywords but it’s a start.
The more important thing is to focus on delivering high-quality content on a timely basis and build your travel agency’s website into a humongous travel information hub over time.
12. Ask for Customer Reviews
The best way to get positive reviews is by providing exemplary services to your new and existing customers.
If your clients are happy and satisfied with your services; inviting them to review your services will be a breeze.
Customer reviews are an excellent way of not only engaging your existing customers but also helps in building your credibility online.
By far the best way to garner positive reviews is to ask your clients to review your online travel agency on third party consumer review websites and Google.
The best way to get excellent reviews is by asking your current clients to always leave a comment after their trip or vacation. That way you capture fresh testimonies from those who recently availed your service.
13. Attend Conventions and Trade Events
Attending trade shows and conventions is an effective way of not only promoting your online travel agency offline but in establishing the necessary connections as well that can help you grow your business as these shows attract industry experts and like-minded people.
Every time you attend these kinds of events, carry some business cards, flyers, brochures or stickers to give away and whenever you can, volunteer to sponsor a booth or a table to give your business more exposure.
14. Optimize Your Website for SEO
As mentioned, you can’t discount the fact that people search for businesses like yours online. Optimizing your website to appear on top of search results couldn’t be more important.
Most of your competitors will have websites and those with deeper pockets invests heavily in online search advertising. Paying for ads will bring on-demand traffic to your online travel agency but it can be expensive too; if you have the budget and you think you can benefit from search advertising, you may join the bandwagon but search engine optimization though builds slowly will give you the best return on your advertising dollars.
If you want to rank on top of Google, you must optimize your website to rank for the right keywords that your target types on the search field to find businesses like yours.
As I mentioned, search engine optimization takes time as it’s organic but it’s going to be the best marketing decision you’ll ever make.
If you have the time and patience, you can always learn SEO on your own, however, if you don’t have the patience nor time, might as well hire professional search engine optimization companies to help optimize your website and dominate your search engine space.
15. Market Your Business on Social Media
Social media platforms are modern (virtual) hangouts. Websites like Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter are where most of your target market hangs out, aside from Google of course.
People go to Google to search for information, products or services; they go to social media to hang out in groups that share the same interest.
I briefly mentioned Facebook groups above as a marketing strategy but there’s more to social media marketing than Facebook groups but don’t be overwhelmed, start by having social media share buttons on your blog posts and pages so it’s easy for people to share your posts and articles.
The goal is at least to connect with your audience through their favorite social media platforms. Using social media allows you to inform clients about any changes in your agency, price reductions, discounts, newly introduced services, and the latest packages. Doing so keeps clients updated, which is a very significant sign of professionalism in a travel agency.
When your target market follows you on social media, it’s like having them subscribed to your email list – it allows you to communicate with them directly in a platform of their choice.
Like search engine optimization, this is something that you can hire out to freelancers or dedicated offshore employees who know their craft better than an online travel agency owner.
I hope you’ve found this guide to starting a travel agency online valuable. If you think, we’ve missed some important tidbits, please don’t hesitate to share your thoughts on the comment form below and we’ll publish your contribution.
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