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Self-employed travel agents can work from home, from the office or from abroad. The freedom that comes with the position of independent agent is far reaching and includes working in whatever market you wish and working as little or as much as your budget allows. The process of becoming a self-employed travel agent involves establishing your business, building a product line and getting the word out.
Check with state laws and regulations to see if they require you to register as a travel seller. As of publication, only certain states have this requirement: Hawaii, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, California and Washington. The rest have no regulations governing the practice of travel consulting or sales.
File your business as a limited liability corporation. It will then be recognized as a business by your local department of taxation, and you will be able to avoid tax and other liabilities that would otherwise be applied to your personal finances. Use an accountant or an online legal site to complete and file the paperwork. While the LLC will provide you with the protections of a corporation, you will still be taxed at the lower personal income rate unless you wish to roll your profits into building the business further, which will result in a 15 percent corporate rate.
Contact hotel companies, tour operators, airlines and rental car companies to request travel agent rates in the destinations you plan to offer. Agent rates are often the same as published rates but have a 5 to 15 percent commission built in to the price. Each company has its own way of working with agents and making payment, but as a rule, you will not be paid until the reservation has been paid in full and the trip has concluded. Cancellations can muddle things, and this method of travel-then-pay avoids any issues.
Sign up with the International Airlines Travel Agent Network and obtain your IATAN number. An IATAN card allows you to sell airline tickets and issue them as well. This is a key difference that gives you the authority to book, print and change tickets just like the ticket counter at the airport. IATAN requirements and membership are industry standards, and you will find that many suppliers will only work with an agent who holds a current IATAN card and number.
Create a website through which you can sell and market your product. Have a dedicated telephone line installed to handle your business calls and get the word out through friends and family to start. Attend trade shows and travel events in the community and seek out low-cost local marketing opportunities such as billboards and newspaper articles to bring in the traffic.
Travel companies around the country hire freelance travel agents to handle bookings and provide customer service from home. If you have a good knowledge of travel and what it takes to build an enjoyable vacation, seek out a position with an existing company. If all goes well, you can always start your own travel agency business from home.
Becoming an independent or at-home travel agent without forming an LLC can leave you open to lawsuits and other liabilities that occur from time to time in the course of business.
Robert Morello has an extensive travel, marketing and business background. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from Columbia University in 2002 and has worked in travel as a guide, corporate senior marketing and product manager and travel consultant/expert. Morello is a professional writer and adjunct professor of travel and tourism.