For independent agents, the decision as to whether to affiliate with a host agency or consortium is one that deserves careful consideration. Before making a final determination, you must weigh a considerable number of issues while researching the large field of players.
“When travel agents research and select a host agency, it’s important that they know their business or what business they’d like to build—as well as their strengths and where they need the most support,” said Steve Hirshan, Avoya Travel’s senior vice president, sales support. “There are different host and consortium models, and every agent will have different needs for their independent travel agency.”
Asking if host agencies or consortia sell travel themselves is especially important since as an agent you need to know if they will be competing with your own business, Hirshan said, adding that Avoya does not sell travel. “Robust professional development offerings, available technology to help agents focus on selling travel, a new customer lead program, and marketing are also important to consider,” according to Hirshan.
Doing one’s homework, meanwhile, is also a crucial part of the vetting process. “Research all of the viable options before jumping in with any host agency or consortium,” said Drew Daly, general manager of network engagement & performance for Cruises Inc., CruiseOne, and Dream Vacations. “Even though there are similarities among host agencies, the end product we each provide to our customer varies.”
Another factor to weigh is the host or consortium’s reputation in the industry. “Obviously agents should vet the different hosts and research online with the Better Business Bureau and [check] industry websites for reviews,” Daly said. He also suggested that you reach out to travel consultants who are aligned with prospective hosts.
When conducting research, you should make sure to ask pertinent questions, said Cheryl Bunker, Virtuoso’s vice president of global member partnerships for the U.S. and Canada. General questions to consider asking include: Does the company belong to ASTA? Does it have ARC bonding? Is its brand known and highly regarded? You must then ask yourself questions that pertain specifically to you and your agency: Is the company a strong fit with your business model? Does it have the right relationships with the partners you sell? Is the company an established business that you would be proud to be associated with?
“Ask if a company is a strong fit with your business model and has the right relationships with the partners you sell,” Bunker said. “The human connection is a very important consideration advisors shouldn’t overlook.”
After weighing these considerations, you should assess tools and programs, including Intranet systems, CRM, access to booking tools and sales reports, air desks, service centers, business planning and development, and networking, she said.
When it comes to marketing, you should look for “everything from social media, to email marketing, to branded publications, to hosted websites,” Bunker said, adding that you should determine whether “the agency or consortium provides them with the ability to put [your] own business brand and identity in the spotlight.”
From a financial perspective, executives said that you should determine the companies’ economic models for independent contractors, commission, and override policies and sales recognition programs.
In the end, they agreed that finding the right fit with a consortium or host revolves around assiduous research. “It’s to both the veteran’s and the new-to-travel professional’s advantage to research, research, research,” said Hirshan, who suggested websites like FindAHostAgency.com and HostAgencyReviews.com, plus the host/consortium’s own websites, as places to begin your searches.
Other avenues for conducting research are travel shows where you can speak with host/consortia representatives and suppliers who work with them. And, of course, you can also ask each host and consortia directly about its services.
Will all that effort pay off for agents? Definitely, executives agreed. “There are so many things a host provides,” said Daly. “We recognize that agents are independent and are running their own business. A host is there to help them along the way and to support them so they’re not in business alone.”
Added Bunker, “It’s important to select a host that’s part of a consortium. Having the power of a network behind you is imperative, as it will provide support to help ICs better run their businesses. You don’t have to do it all on your own; you’ve got incredible support to help you be a success.”