Here are our top tips for getting your travel agency off the ground.
- Choose your niche
Pretty obvious, you might think: The first thing you need to do is select which sector of the travel market you’re going to make your own. The chances are that you’ve already done this. This one idea might even be the reason that you want to build a travel agency.
Maybe you love snow sports, beach holidays or spa getaways. Maybe you can’t get enough of German Christmas markets. Whichever sector you go for one thing is for sure. You have to love it, you have to live it, and most importantly of all: You have to know it inside out. People don’t simply book trips through travel agencies these days. They expect a whole lot more. You need to be a source of knowledge on your chosen niche, able to make solid recommendations according to the requirements and preferences of your customers.
If you can confidently say that you have found a travel niche that you’re passionate and knowledgeable about, then you’ve made a solid first step on the road to setting up a successful travel agency.
- Find some great partners
So you’ve got your niche in mind. Great. But now the hard work begins. You can’t run a travel agency without any products to sell. And you can’t just magic products and services out of the air. You need to approach existing or early-stage providers and offer them the chance to become members of your marketplace – only then can you sell their offers on their behalf.
But that’s not as easy as it sounds. Established operators aren’t going to simply hand you the keys without asking a few questions first. First of all, you need to know your numbers and make sure that you’re asking for a percentage commission that is fair and in line with competitors. As a new travel agency, you’re hardly in a position to make outrageous demands.
You need operators to work with more than they need you. At least in the early stages.
So you need to approach things professionally. Make it clear that you have a vision, an idea of where things are growing, and the knowledge and business prowess to back up those assertions. Partnerships are based on trust, and you need to fill potential partners with confidence.
But at the same time, you have to be able to trust your potential partners. Do they often have problems with customer satisfaction? Are they going to enhance the reputation of your marketplace? What impact can bad reviews have in the early stages for any startup? These are questions that you need to answer carefully before you begin any sort of formal association.
Once you’ve built a solid network of partners you can trust, you’re ready to focus on your next challenges.
- Build your Marketplace
Niche chosen? Check. Partners in place? Absolutely. Now you need to put it all together and build a kick-ass platform that looks professional while offering ease of use and scalability. Don’t have the time or inclination to handle all of the technical wizardry required?
- Add a touch of personality
At every stage of the travel agency build, you need to think about what is making you different. Sure, you’ve got a niche and there might not be many other competitors vying for the same space – but how are you going to communicate that originality?
Your agency needs to have personality. It needs to stand out. It needs to scream reliability in, and dedication to, your chosen niche. In essence, you need to build a brand.
Building a brand isn’t easy. But you can start with some fairly straightforward steps.
First, develop a voice that will be consistent across all channels of communication. Offering Surfing holidays in the Med? Tailor your communication to a young, laid-back audience. Selling cruises for the over-60s? For God’s sake don’t use the words ‘cool’ and ‘dude’.
Develop a style and a format that suits your target market, and keep it consistent.
Second, start building up a social media presence. With your brand voice identified, target those that would naturally be drawn to your marketplace, and communicate your message in as positive a way as possible. Begin attracting people to your website, not necessarily to buy, but to learn and become informed. Content marketing is king, and it’s a great way to start from nothing and quickly become a go-to, recognised voice in your chosen field.
The bottom line is this. People buy from people. They don’t buy from robots. Differentiate yourself from the masses of travel agencies that simply pin up their trips for people to click on.
Importantly, remember that customers aren’t just paying for products. They’re paying for expertise and recommendations. People want to make informed decisions. Give them the power to do so.
- Adapt to your target market
At first, things might not go your way. Sales might be slow. Business might be non-existent. This is where you need to adapt. While a lack of sales could be for a number of reasons, one thing you can do to turn things in your favour is adapt to your target market.
How can you do adapt to your target market? Well, it’s probably a good idea to do some research. Where are your potential customers booking their trips? How much are they paying? Where are they talking about travel bookings? When you know the answers to these questions, you need to adapt your offering to meet them. This might mean adjusting your prices, publicising your agency in different places, or even adapting your products to better suit the gaps in the market.
Don’t be afraid to pivot. If it isn’t working, don’t just sit and watch things unravel. To quote Coldplay, “Nobody said it was easy…”
- Shout louder than the competition
Admittedly, this isn’t as easy as it sounds. There’s a reason that a minority of major players dominate the travel industry. Search engines tend to throw up a select few names when potential customers are hunting online for trips. It can be difficult to get around this, especially when many customers specifically search for the names of their favoured travel agencies. But get around it you can.
Part of the beauty of any marketplace is that you can build a collective of smaller operators to shout louder together. It’s not perfect, but it’s a great platform to help get you started. What you do need though, are two key foundations for online success:
A strong Content Marketing strategy – to help you build your audience and become a thought leader in your field.
A clever Social Media strategy – to engage with potential customers and transmit your brand voice and content across the online world.
- Don’t let your customers down
This goes without saying really. So you’ve come up with a travel niche to target, built a marketplace, chosen your partners and got yourself noticed. The last thing you want is to screw it all up with a spate of bad reviews. Reviews matter, and it’s proven that they are disproportionately powerful when it comes to customer choices.
Bad reviews are bad for business. So do your best to keep your customers happy, and go out of your way to make their trip feel a worthwhile, value-for-money positive experience.
- Harness your customers’ positivity
When things are going well there are things you can do to perpetuate that success. Had some great reviews? Fantastic! You’re doing something right. But what can you do to encourage more people to buy what you’re selling?
Share great reviews
Nobody likes to brag. But sometimes it’s necessary. Reviews are powerful tools that you can apply to encourage new customers to take the plunge and buy what you’re selling. Hearing some genuine thoughts on an experience that you helped create can, if positive, tip the balance between making a sale and leaving the page.
It’s good to share.
Engage with customer feedback
Even within positive reviews, there might be constructive criticism that you can take on board or pass on to your service providers. Engaging with all feedback, even when negative, shows that you care about your business and radiates the idea that you’re always trying to improve. It doesn’t take much effort, but it can make a big difference.
Encourage repeat business
So some of your travellers had a fantastic time and are happy to recommend you to friends and family. That’s great! Why not encourage them to bare that loyalty in mind when they next book a trip? Offer them a discount, or tailor them a trip with their previous feedback in mind. The more personal the better.