PICKING A HOST AGENCY CAN BE TRICKY. There are lots of things to consider, from supplier connections and fees to overall support. Here are how some home-based agents chose their host agencies and why their particular picks work for them.
Doris Thompson, MouseEarVacations/CruisingCo.com
Doris Thompson, a home-based agent living in Akron, IN, says that she narrowed in on a host agency that was right for her by focusing on a company that coincided with her own travel interests. "From the moment I first saw Tinker Bell fly across the television screen and with a flick of her wand release a multitude of colorful fireworks over a castle that could only exist in my little girl dreams, I was hooked!," she gushes.
"My love for everything Disney was well on its way to becoming an obsession," Thompson continues, "so when my son turned 16 and this stay-at-home mom retired as the household chauffer, it was time for me to turn my love of Disney into a part-time job as a travel agent."
Her niche in the industry was never in question. "I knew I wanted to specialize in Disney-related travel, so I started my search with agencies I myself had booked with in the past," Thompson says. "I looked into a few of these options, but by far the attention to details and one-on-one personal service of MouseEarVacations/CruisingCo.com (MEV/CCE) made this my first choice when venturing into the world of host agencies."
However, Thompson did not rush her decision. "Before making my final decision," she says, "the owner of the company, Jami Sales, took the time to speak with me personally and answered any questions I had." Sales was convincing, and Thompson stepped up to the plate. "With top-notch training and an awesome office and administrative staff there to support all my efforts, I was ready to take on this new challenge," Thompson says. She has never looked back.
"Now with several years under my belt and working as a full-time agent, MEV/CCE has grown as a company, as I have grown as an agent," she says. "With extended company training, I now also work with all cruise lines and land-based travel to vacation destinations around the world."
Thompson feels that any host agency worth its salt must adapt to constant changes in the business. "As the travel industry changes and evolves, so must host agencies," she says. "MouseEarVacations/CruisingCo.com has kept on top of the new trends by offering updated training, fam trips and agent education meetings."
Also, Thompson values a personal touch. "With more than 70 agents spread over the country, owner Jami Sales still takes the personal one-on-one time to praise each agent for a job well done," says Thompson. "This family-like atmosphere makes my job as a MEV/CCE agent a pleasure."
Nancy Bogert, Cruise Planners
Nancy Bogert, a cruise-specialist agent based out of her home office in Williamsport, PA, was well ahead of the home-based phenomenon. In fact, she became a home-based agent so early on that there weren't many host agencies to choose from. "Finding a host company was a lot different when I looked at starting my business at home," she says. "There were only a few choices, and the public was not yet convinced that they were ready to do business with someone working from their home."
Even pioneers need support, and Bogert sought training to help her launch a successful home-based business. "I contacted several agencies that offered training, and it was not difficult to make my decision," she says. "Cruise Planners had three owners with 90 years of experience in the cruise and travel industry," she says. "I followed up, contacted the cruise lines and was amazed that the cruise lines personally knew the people at Cruise Planners," she continues. "The other agency that was calling me daily just didn't have the credentials that Cruise Planners had. Even now, Cruise Planners hires the best support teams in the country; they are always there to help." Now, they have joined up with one of the big boys. "Being an American Express-affiliated agency just adds even more credibility to the Cruise Planners name," she says.
"Signing on with Cruise Planners was by far the best move I ever made in my life," Bogert says. "I had owned a retail store and then worked for my husband; now, I am finally doing what I always wanted to do with the best host company in the country," she continues. "I have been with them for 11 years, and I can only say that anyone wanting to make a career move and be a part of the travel industry would be making the right decision by selecting Cruise Planners as their host agency."
Bogert, like Thompson, also emphasizes her host's personal touch. "No matter how big they get, they will always feel like my family," Bogert says. She values education and networking opportunities, as well as back-office support. "They offer Seminars at Sea, conventions, inaugurals on new ships, web support, a great booking site, and they have programs where they mail fliers to our clients for a nominal yearly fee," she says. "These are very professional, along with our great Cruise Planner magazine that goes out twice yearly."
Bogert stresses the importance of growth to keep abreast of the competition. "While they have been in business for more than 12 years, Michelle Fee and Lynn Korn will never let the company stop growing," Bogert says. "They are always looking for new ways to help us make our business grow. I am proud to be a part of this great company."
Jeanie Leonard, Travel Counsellors
Jeanie Leonard is a home-based agent from Lyndonville, NY, who also serves clients in Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. "I feel very fortunate to have been selected as one of the first eight U.S.A. agents to work with Travel Counsellors," she says. Travel Counsellors is the largest home-based travel company in the U.K., and has been expanding worldwide. "Before I joined with Travel Counsellors, I was working with Terri Maldonado, owner of CruiseGal, LLC. I worked with CruiseGal, LLC for four years and was referred to Travel Counsellors by Terri."
Leonard says that she felt welcome immediately. "From the first day that I met with David Speakman [Travel Counsellors' founder] and the staff in Lake Mary [Florida] in August 2006, I felt like I had joined this wonderful family of professional travel agents," she says. "David made me feel that my beliefs of personalized customer service and helping my clients find that perfect vacation that they wanted, not what I had to sell, really was what it is all about, and this is the company that I want to be with."
In addition to her clients in New York and New England, her host agency has helped Leonard attract international clientele. "Travel Counsellors has given me the opportunity to promote my business to clients from all over the world with my own web site through their Intranet service," she says.
"They have given me the tools and back-office support needed to help me to grow my business," she continues. "We have our own technical support persons to update our computers provided by Travel Counsellors; we receive our certifications for CTA, CTC, ACC, MCC, ECC and Destination Specialists all provided by Travel Counsellors, our E&O insurance is provided for us, plus we have the support of other TC agents from all over the world to get destination recommendations from."
Leonard says that her host agency has made her job easier. "This is a fantastic company to work with and I highly recommend joining Travel Counsellors if you are a serious travel agent who wants to really make your business grow and have clients you can plan travel for more than one time," she says.
What is the key to getting repeat business and referrals? "It is all about the service we provide to our clients, caring and nurturing the relationship so that they refer you to their friends and you build your business on that," she says.
"We will go out of our way to provide you with the type of service and vacation that you are truly looking for at a great value."