The Travel Agent Next Door Targets Small Brick and Mortars

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Everything old is new again in the travel industry, and things again seem to be coming full circle. Heading into 2020, two former mega-agency executives are reaching out to the smallest agencies in travel distribution: home-based travel advisors opening brick and mortar agencies.

Former Thomas Cook executive Flemming Friisdahl, who started The Travel Agent Next Door to provide support for home-based agents about five years ago, has tapped his old friend, former Carlson Wagonlit Travel VP (and current ACTA treasurer) Louise Gardiner, to head the newly launched division, The Agency Solution, which was first announced in August.

While the program is only available to advisors in Canada, it highlights the growing interest in brick and mortar offices for many home-based agents, as travel sales soar.

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“I think many advisors want to be entrepreneurial. Many start by working for an agency and getting paid a salary, but when they reach $1 million a year they realize they could be making $100,000 but are only being paid $50,000, and they start their own home-based agency,” Gardiner said.

In time, if all goes right, they get busier and busier; they team up with an associate agent and cover each other when they are on fam trips and holidays. In the past couple of years, though, as travel sales have soared, many home-based agents have taken the next step: “They ask themselves what it would cost to have a storefront, and would they make enough extra income to cover the cost?”

The Agency Solution is “taking the kind of support a home-based agent would have”—including accounting support, technology, social media and email marketing, office and sales tools—to smaller brick-and-mortars, those with maybe $2 million or $3 million in volume. 

The Travel Agent Next Door has about 500 members, Gardiner said; The Agency Solution is launching with about 10. But the market is attractive. There are about 350 brick-and-mortar agencies with fewer than three employees in Ontario alone. 

The Agency Solution is “very different from a consortium; they help with supplier agreements, we help with accounting systems,” Gardiner said. “Our goal is to offer home-based agents an opportunity to get into a brick and mortar environment, while we take of the legal and administrative and operational sides, the payroll and the telephony, for them, so they can really focus on growing the revenue side.”

Also included are help with lead generation, regulatory fees, E&O insurance, technology, and managing and mentoring in-house employees and independent contractors. The support is all behind the scenes; customers see only the agency’s independent branding, including a customized website.

Fees are on a sliding scale based on number of agents, starting at under $100 a month.

Gardiner is a well-known figure in the Canadian travel industry. She started her career as a bookkeeper at Meissner Travel, a $5 million agency she grew to over $12 million, and then was a vice president at TripCentral. With her husband recuperating from a lung transplant last year, she retired from Carlson Wagonlit, where she oversaw the associate franchise division, with 140 leisure travel locations and a cumulative $1 billion in sales.

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