The terrible truth of life at a desk-based travel agency

Work in the travel industry can be demanding. However, a passion for travel and the love of finding and crafting dream itineraries means that the travel industry can also be a highly rewarding career.

The rewards for desk-based travel consultants compared to travel consultants who own their own business vary widely. Whilst they both have their pros and cons. It’s undeniable, that if you are in a place in your career where you can find and manage your own roster of clients, there is nothing better than the ability to be your own boss. And to enjoy the best part of being a travel agent in a stress-free environment.

Our 1,900 experienced home-based agents, across seven countries, share with us why they believe owning your own travel business - with the backing of an international Global franchise - trumps working at a desk based travel firm.

Work-life balance

Travel agencies are often high stress and highly competitive environments. Many people struggle to strike a balance between work, life and a career. Ironically, for many travel agents, this can mean missing out on opportunities to travel abroad – the very thing which feeds their passion for the travel industry in the first place.

Not only does this affect an agent's overall wellbeing and personal life, it also drains them of energy, making them less productive and less able to provide great customer service, impacting their personal brand.

Alternatively, an owner-operator has the freedom to work from wherever they choose, spend as much time as they need on each itinerary to guarantee a return-customers and unlimited opportunity to take those families that come their way.

Customer Relationships

A travel agent understands what is possible and when a customer’s expectations are non-viable. A travel professional also understands how to compromise with customers and find alternative and better solutions.

This isn’t always possible in a desk-based travel agency, where the company line often pressures travel agents in to always saying yes to any customer demand. A small business owner has more freedom to negotiate with the customer so they can make a decent living, while still offering great savings on unique holidays.

Culture and employee turnover

Commission is a great way to motivate a workforce, but it can sometimes backfire when a large number of consultants are competing over a small pool of walk-in customers. At desk-based travel agencies, this can lead to unfriendly competition, and in the worst cases, even workplace bullying.

What follows is high staff turnover, meaning the business (including other consultants) has to spend a lot of time training new staff who will make mistakes and do not yet have the relationships with the customers.

This isn’t a problem when a junior consultant has a strong and supportive team around them. When they don’t, it often leads to bad customer experience, less repeat business and fewer recommendations.

When a travel agent goes solo, they can forget the politics and focus on providing a better experience to the customer to earn more.

Base salary and working overtime

At most travel agencies, an agent needs to earn their place in the room. This means needing to book more trips than their co-workers, in order to keep their job. The downside is that individual agents don’t have control over many factors, such as store location, that can affect the number of sales they are able to make. When a travel agent stays overtime to close a sale, if the customer changes their mind at the last minute, or leaves to think about it and then returns to book with a different agent, the consultant has effectively worked overtime for free. Travel agents are hard working, and can work long hours for a base salary - to keep their numbers looking good. In some companies, travel agents get taken advantage to the point where these employers have been taken to court over “systematic underpayment”.

By contrast, Travel Counsellors empowers independent travel agents by giving them control through Phenix. Phenix lets travel advisors take control of their own margin, making it possible to meet the needs of your customers while taking control of your earnings.

This benefits the customer, as independent travel agents aren’t bound by relationships with “preferred” providers. This means owner-operator advisors have the freedom to sell a greater variety of products. By giving customers a greater choice, rather than trying to fit them into a stock itinerary, independent travel agents provide a better experience which makes their service more worthwhile and can justify better service fees.

This is how many agents that own their own businesses traditionally see more compensation for their hard work than at a desk-based role.

Business model

The internet has really changed the travel industry a lot in the last 20 years. Because it’s now easier than ever for customers to book and plan their own holidays, brick-and-mortar stores need to find new ways to drive sales and growth. What travel agencies should focus on is using technology to provide good customer experience that makes customers happy to pay a fee, as they’re getting value for money. Unfortunately, some travel agencies have instead relied on tactics like overcharging and price fixing, which has led to million-dollar fines and lawsuits.This can tarnish the reputation of travel agents overall and limits the opportunity for consultants to grow professionally.

On the other hand, travel agents who embrace technology can provide better customer service without having to sacrifice growth or earnings. Smart digital platforms, like Phenix, enhance productivity and improve communication, so that you can provide seamless customer service.

With Travel Counsellors 24/7 support, independent operators also have more time to research new products and work on their offering, without having to waste time on things like paying accounts. Travel Counsellors saves consultants time on admin, so that you can focus on creating better itineraries that drive business.

Your desk is your business

Many travel agents hope that the more negative aspects of desk-based agencies will disappear when they move into a team leader or sales rep position. This might not be the case, when many of these positions still have drawbacks like set commission targets and long hours.

In the end, the downsides of desk-based travel agencies are a result of working for someone else.

“Your desk is your business.”

This is a common mantra in travel agencies, which companies might try to adopt because they recognise the benefits of owning a business, like greater flexibility and freedom.

Running a business gives travel professionals the freedom to get on with the work that matters: booking the holidays that people will remember for a lifetime.

If you'd like to know more about the benefits of starting your own travel business, get in touch with our careers team on 1300 889 123 or fill in the contact form.