Are you considering a career as a travel agent and thinking about getting started with a host agency? Whether you’re just starting your search or you’re deep into the host agency reviews already, there are a few important things to think about when choosing the right host for you.
Keep in mind, choosing a host agency is a personal decision, and there’s no “best” agency out there for everyone. Selecting a host will ultimately depend on where you want to go in the industry, how much support you need, and what matters most to you.
If you’re not sure what a host agency for travel agents is or if you should consider signing up with one, consider reading our post, “What is a host agency for travel agents?” before reading on. Today we’ll explore the key factors that set host agencies apart and help you select the right host agency for you!
Note, this post is meant to be informative as you choose the right travel host for you. Under each tip, we’ve included a bit about Pickles Travel Network – that’s us! To learn more, see what’s included as a PTN agent.
1. Consider whether or not you want to operate under your own brand name when choosing a host agency.
There are two main ways to start your travel business, depending on the type of host you choose. First, you can become an agent under an existing brand, which means you’ll use their name, logo, and company image as you build your clientele. Under certain host agencies, this is required, and you’ll pay a yearly fee to essentially create a franchise under the host’s brand.
The second option is to join a host agency that lets you operate under your own brand name. You’ll still get access to the suppliers, resources, and credentials of your host, but you’ll have complete creative control over your business name, your niche, and your marketing. If creating your own brand is important to you, it’s essential to ask potential host agencies if they require you to use any of their branding or stay within any creative guidelines.
At Pickles Travel Network, agents have 100% creative freedom to build their own brands. We do not require agents to use any of our branded materials or even mention us to clients. We are a true “white label” host agency.
2. Get familiar with the commission splits a host agency offers, and determine any requirements for higher commissions.
Every host agency offers agents their own commission splits, and there’s a huge range within the travel industry. As a general rule of thumb, you should always aim for at least a 60% commission when operating under a host agency, which means you get to keep 60% of the commission you earn.
Not only do host agencies offer various commission splits, but the requirements to access each commission split can vary as well. The most common requirement is sales thresholds. For example, you might start at a 50% commission when you sign up, but if you reach $250,000 in sales that year, you’ll be eligible for a 60% commission the following year.
Other host agencies let you choose your commission split from the time you sign up, usually with an increased signup fee or recurring flat fee. These host agencies offer the most flexibility, as you can sell as little or as much as you want to without worrying about sales quotas or delay periods for increased commissions.
At Pickles Travel Network, agents can choose between 70%, 80%, and 90% commission when they sign up. There are no sales requirements or other conditions – only flat monthly or annual payments for unlimited commissions. Commission splits are eligible to be updated once per year on the anniversary of your signup.
3. Decide on your focus, then choose a host agency that shares values, priorities, and areas of interest with you.
Host agencies come in all varieties: those that specialize in Disney, those that are strictly for seven-figure sales agents, those that have a little bit of everything, those that have a super-involved community, and those with little personalization at all.
With all the options out there, starting by exploring every available host agency can be more confusing than it is productive. Instead, choose what’s most important to you first, then look for host agencies that fit the mold. In general, here are a few things to consider:
- Bigger host agencies (3,000+ agents) tend to have the most supplier relationships and can have better commission deals, but might offer less in terms of personalization and community support.
- Host agencies geared towards new travel agents likely have lots of training, support, and resources, but if you plan to become a seven-figure agency within a few years, you could outgrow what they have to offer.
- If you do have a specific niche in mind (ex: Disney vacations, family travel, cruising) you might want to consider a host agency that specializes in this area to best support you.
- Don’t neglect personal values. Ultimately, host agencies are made up of people, and you want to find people you resonate with and are excited to grow alongside.
Pickles Travel Network is a woman-owned travel host agency that focuses on simple, modern solutions for travel agents. We provide our 300+ agents with the tools, resources, and training they need to succeed in the travel industry, and emphasize building a supportive community of agents. Our agency structure makes it easy for new or experienced agents to start their travel businesses and scale them as quickly and immensely as they’d like.
4. Determine if a host agency allows subagents if you plan to grow your team.
If your plan is to stay a solo travel agent long-term, you can skip this one. But if you’re even considering growing a team of travel agents in the future, it’s important to choose a host agency that will let you add subagents. Some host agencies don’t permit subagent signups, meaning if you have another agent or two you want to partner with, they will have to pay the regular startup fee, recurring fees, and won’t be able to split their commissions with you by default.
If a host agency does allow subagents, they might offer a reduced payment to enroll your subagents and will group your subagents under you when it comes time to pay commissions. This means you would be able to set your own commission rates for yourself and your team, which is crucial when working under a host. Many travel agents just getting started think they’ll want to travel solo forever, but later decide they want to expand into an agency model. If you want the flexibility to decide later, or if you’ve always envisioned growing your team, double-check that your potential host allows subagents and has a system in place for them.
At Pickles Travel Network, subagents are permitted and pay a reduced monthly or annual fee of their choosing. Subagents don’t choose their commission splits when they sign up – you as the agency owner will determine your subagents’ commission splits.
5. Find out who a host agency is affiliated with before making your decision.
Ultimately, the travel industry is about relationships. One of the biggest perks of signing up with a host agency is getting access to their relationships with suppliers, vendors, training programs, and other tools for travel agents. It’s important to get to know who a host agency has relationships with when making your selection.
Inquire about a host agency’s suppliers, partnerships, and affiliate programs when comparing your options. You can even approach things from the other direction, and ask travel experts whose opinions you trust which hosts they recommend. Choosing the least expensive host or the host who shows up first on Google might not always be the best choice. People know people best, and as an agent of a host agency, you’re stepping into their network of relationships and taking on a piece of their reputation. Your decision matters – give it the attention it deserves.
Pickles Travel Network has partnerships, and sometimes exclusive partnerships, with many of the industry’s best. In addition to our network of suppliers and resources, we offer our agents a list of preferred partners in every area from marketing to travel education. Many of our partners offer members-only deals to Pickles Travel Network agents. We’re also the #1 recommended host agency by travel expert Cyndi Williams, the CEO of ASTA-affiliated travel school Careers on Vacation.
6. Understand what you’re actually paying for when deciding if a host agency is “affordable” or “expensive.”
In the world of host agencies, there’s a wide range of signup costs, annual fees, commission splits, and pay structures. Even if one host appears “more expensive” than another, it’s worth looking into what you’re actually paying for. Some things that might be included with the cost of signing up with a host agency that every travel agent needs are…
- Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software
- Itinerary and planning software
- Errors and Ommissions (E+O) insurance
- Lead generation tools
- Travel agent training programs
- Membership with a travel consortia
All of these tools are essential for running a successful travel business. If they’re not included in the cost of your host agency membership, you must factor in the cost of them separately when choosing a host.
Pickles Travel Network membership includes the following tools and subscriptions for agents and subagents upon signup.
- VacationCRM ($50/month value)
- Travefy itinerary management ($39/month value)
- Coverage under our E+O policy (ranges, from $26/month value)
- Travel Leaders Network membership with lead generation (amount varies)
- Travel Professional Training Kit ($3,323.34 value)
Choosing the right host agency is a decision that only you can make, and can be one of the greatest decisions of your career!
The world of travel has so many incredible learning opportunities and great people to meet. We’re so excited for you to begin or further your career as a travel agent, and wish you the very best of luck.