Industry suppliers are increasingly targeting their marketing programs to productive and professional home-based independent agents who can deliver sales results. In reality, today's home-based independent agent has unprecedented access to new business-building resources and sales opportunities.
The combined efforts of host agencies, associations, consortia and suppliers add up and place the independent agent at the heart of the travel industry's marketing efforts.
Host Agencies: Independent agents have a wide range of choice in the host agency they want to do business with. While varying in size, staff and resources, host agencies offer proven methods of building business. They know what it takes to succeed.
Associations: Membership in the Outside Sales Support Network (OSSN) and the National Association of Commissioned Travel Agents (NACTA) offer tremendous resources for the home-based travel agent. This includes easy-to-access online resources, education and training programs, networking opportunities and conferences focused on the independent agent.
Independent agents also have a strong ally in CLIA, which has aggressively championed independent agents to build cruise sales. CLIA, like NACTA and OSSN, offers accreditation and identification programs, as well as extensive education and training programs online and offline.
Consortia: While a few consortia appeal directly to independent home-based agents, most agency groups focus on supporting the host agencies that in turn support the independent agent. The consortia are vital, however. Not only do they impact the preferred suppliers the agency and agent work with, but also they negotiate commissions, incentives and promotions for the agency.
Consortia affiliations also provide a key branding component. America's Vacation Center and Cruise Planners both have an affiliation with American Express that is seen as a major asset by the agents belonging to the two groups.
Major trade groups such as ASTA, ARTA, USTOA or NTA have a broader audience than home-based independents. Yet they have informational and policy resources that can prove valuable to the home-based independent.
Small Business Resources: While the home-based independent benefits from diverse support from travel industry sources, there is an array of resources that are available to them from outside the industry. A good example is American Express' Open Network, www.americanexpress.com.
Today's home-based independent agent must sort out a tremendous amount of information and determine what is relevant to them. But the opportunities are substantial.
While the support of suppliers, hosts and associations are welcome, the bottom line is that home-based independent agents will be challenged. There is no substitute for personal drive and ambition. The independent travel agent has to be self-motivated and driven to succeed. They also have to be well organized and manage time effectively.
To succeed, independent home-based agents will have to make a commitment to professional and personal growth. They will have to use technology and marketing tools effectively. Above all else they will have to deliver quality service to their clients. The good news is that they are not alone.