Tips for Working Your Way Through a Tough Economy

At Home-Based Travel Agent, we talk to industry experts all year long, and many have shared nuggets of advice for home-based agents during these tough economic times. Here are five tips for ways to sustain—and perhaps improve—your business in the face of a grim economy.

• Charging fees. Many agents have been fearful that service fees would scare potential business away. But today, the airlines still haven't wavered on their now 13-year-old decision to cut commissions, and in a weak U.S. economy, the cost of running a business is  higher than ever. If there is a danger of losing business due to charging fees, is that business wanted or needed? Most clients today realize that the days of travel agent commissions across the board are fast approaching a bygone era and that professional fee-for-service is the current  byword.

• Find the Deals! We’ve seen an influx of add-on values from the Caribbean in the past few weeks, but Mexico hasn’t exactly been quiet either. In fact, it’s getting to the point where add-on values from resorts in Mexico, the Caribbean and the rest of the world, for that matter, are becoming a daily occurrence. Agents should advise clients to take advantage of these deals, especially since they don’t often come around this time of the year.
The best deals for your clients and for the resorts are added value as opposed to discounted rates.

• Don’t forget the incrementals. For instance, too many agents simply overlook opportunities to make profitable car-rental sales. Agencies and agents need to rethink their approach to car-rental sales—especially in the face of an economic downturn. The commissions might not compare to the sales of a luxury cruise or five-star resort, but car rentals can be an important revenue source. For international travelers, cell-phone rentals can bring you not only repeat customers, but possible commissions. Working with companies such as TravelCell.com and CellularAbroad.com, agents have found cell phones to be a surprising source of commissions, either based on a flat rate or a percentage of the total bill.

• Use the resources of your host agency and associations. Today's home-based agent has a great range of resources upon which he or she can draw to build a successful business. Agents should understand all the resources available to them from their hosts, from booking procedures to technical and marketing support. Likewise, they should also know their host's policies and programs and be aware of any potential conflicts.

• Cut costs in your business. Home-based agents can save a surprising amount of money by taking a few simple steps, such as checking their thermostats (adjusting the temperature on your air conditioning/heating system up one or two degrees in summer, and down one or two degrees in winter); saving gasoline by combining business car trips around town; paying bills on time to avoid those onerous late fees; bartering or trading with other local businesses for products or services; and buying used, not new, office equipment or furniture.

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