Working for yourself as a travel agent is often stressful because you need to be on call 24/7 to deal with any client emergencies. Travel agents also need to be accredited and hold an International Air Transportation Association (IATA) number in order to book flights for customers in the UK. Despite the preparations involved and the demands of being self-employed, 84,000 people in the UK are now working for themselves from home, according to the Office for National Statistics.
How to get started
Book as many tours as possible through other self-employed travel agents and treat the experience as an essential learning curve. Pick up ideas that work well and avoid repeating the mistakes of other travel agents make when dealing with clients. Use this time to see as much of the world as possible and experience what it’s like to be on the receiving end of travel agent services.
Earn formal qualifications in travel and tourism. The most intensive formal education you could undergo would be a degree in travel and tourism, but other kinds of training are available if a degree does not appeal to your learning style. The Flight Centre offers in-house training via short courses for people hoping to become a self-employed travel agent. Qualifications will generate trust in your online profile and may encourage more potential clients to get in touch.
Choose an area in which you want to specialise. Travel the world and decide which part of the world you wish to focus on. Visit as many different places in that area and learn as much as you can about the culture and important tourist attractions. Consider specialising in travel services for a particular demographic. You might want to specialise in travel advice for the retired, gap year students or women travelling alone. Targeting a specialist area will help you market yourself as a travel agent and add value for your clients.
Work for a number of successful, well-known travel agencies before you go it alone. You can build up experience to list on your CV and learn through your mistakes without risking the success of your own business.
Develop your travel career
Contract a web designer to create a website for your business which is easy to navigate, attractive in terms of design and quick to load. The website will be one of the main portals through which clients hear about your services. It is important to invest lots of time and sufficient funds in this area to ensure positive results.
Sign up to a range of online travel groups and forums, become an active member of these groups and offer your travel advice for free. Sharing information may encourage people to contact you directly and use you as a travel agent.
Register your business officially with the Inland Revenue. You will need to register as a self-employed tax contributor, record all official information about your business on the tax form and complete your tax return every year. Keep comprehensive records of your business expenses and all receipts.
Make useful connections with hotel and hostel owners, flight agents, tour agencies in the locations you promote and travel bloggers. Contacts within the industry may help you secure deals for your clients and you can book them in to hotels and tours that you trust. Work with partners who offer high quality services. Your travel agency will grow based on the reputation it develops over time.
Display your contact information clearly on every page of your website, social network profiles and in any classified ad listings. Stay contactable via Skype, instant messaging, Facebook, Twitter, landline telephone, mobile phone and email. When your clients are on holiday, or before they leave, they might need to contact you urgently and you, or a member of your team, must be available to help them at all times.