Interviewing a Prospective Host Agency
Many people start their search for a new host travel agency by surfing the web. This is sometimes a difficult task since all of the scammers know that those new to the industry will use keywords like “Start a Travel Business”, “Become a Travel Agent” or “Part Time Travel Business Opportunity”. Just a cursory check of search results in Google shows very sketchy results in terms of credible host agencies.
To make things even more challenging, reputable host agencies get bombarded with questions from people only looking for travel benefits, freebies and information on how to obtain discounts and ID cards. It is a very frustrating situation to say the least. Unless you have at least a minimum understanding of the travel industry it is likely that many host agencies may discount your first contact as just being another person looking for free information on the industry.
So, before you contact your first host agency you should have a firm idea about what you will require from a host so that you can talk knowledgeably to the interviewer from the host. You should be able to answer these questions.
1. Why do you want to work with a host?
2. What are you going to be selling (cruises, tours, family travel, destination weddings, groups, escorted tours, river cruises and so on)?
3. What support do you need from a host? (marketing, accounting, technology, extended commissions or something else?
4. Why would a host agency want to work with you?
Once you have determined answers to these questions, you are probably ready to start looking for your host agency. If you are going to specialize in selling cruises, as an example you would look for a host that offers substantial experience in the cruise industry and will allow you to be immediately competitive. Now that you are ready to start talking with host agencies, here are 11 questions that you can ask to see if they are right for you.
How Long Have You Been Hosting Independent Agents and How Many do You Host? This is important. Many agencies that are finding it difficult to make ends meet see hosting as a way to possibly grow their business. If a host agency has not been successfully hosting agents for at least five years, my suggestion is to terminate the interview. Also, if they are only host a few dozen agents, this isn’t a great sign either.
What are the ideal characteristics of an agent that you are looking for? This should be your number one question. If the answer to this question doesn’t match who you are or what you are looking for in a host agency, there is no need to discuss a potential relationship any further.
What is the average sales volume per independent agent in your network? This will tell you the level of immersion of the host agency. The lower the annual sales per agent, the less likely it will be that you will be able to succeed if your intention is to build a large book of business. Most card mills have annual sales of less than $2,500 per agent, which just shouts that it is not a viable host agency.
Who are your preferred suppliers? If the host lists all cruise lines and you are interested in operating African safaris, you can easily see that there might be a complete mismatch. Buying power and overrides are a major benefit of working through a host agency. While you may be able to make a 10% commission by going direct, if a host pays 80% of the earned commission and receives a 16% commission with override from a supplier, your share will become a 12.8% commission.
What consortia do you belong to? If you sell luxury travel, you will want to find a host agency that belongs to Virtuoso. Each consortium has its own value proposition and connecting with a host that is aligned with the right consortia for your needs is essential for your success.
What technologies do you use? This could be a huge factor if you are looking for a specific GDS, accounting system or CRM. If you want a branded website provided by the host agency, the quality and depth may be very important to you. Using industry wide technology might be a better choice than using proprietary technology in case you choose to move to a different host agency down the road. This will make the transition seamless if the new host also uses the same technology.
What training do you offer? Most host agencies offer ongoing training and education to their agents in the form of annual conventions, webinars or other types of engagement. Is the training that the host offers relevant to you? If a host agency specializes in recruiting new agents and has robust training for new agents, this might not be important for a seasoned agent and vice versa.
Do you offer a mentoring program? If you are new to the industry or new to operating your own business, having the benefit of a mentor to help you keep on track can be a very important benefit. And, don’t get caught up in the idea that mentors have no value if you are an established agent. They may be extremely helpful in keeping you and your business on track.
Do you offer leads? Some host agencies actually generate leads that they refer to their agents. This is an excellent feature if you do not currently have an established client base. Leads can supplement your existing client base, or present you with an overnight solution to starting your travel business.
I Intend to Specialize in the (Your Niche) Market, can You Explain Why I should Select Your Host Agency? The answer to this question will tell you an awful lot about how focused the host is on your specific market. This may well be the most important questions that you ask.
Can You Explain Your Program in Detail? Each host agency has a different format in terns of they way they deal with commissions, overrides, perks and so on. Have the individual you are speaking with explain their program. Ask questions!
What is the Total Cost to Get Involved With the Host Agency? Some host agencies have absolutely no fees while others have start=up and monthly fees. Franchisors normal have a franchise fee to join and also monthly fees. Be sure that you ask for all of the monetary details of associating with a host agency.
Be sure to interview several host agencies and you will find yourself understanding the subtleties and will be able to drill down to the right one for you and your business.