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Could a Second Career as a Travel Adviser Be for You?

Passion for travel is a must as interest in using advisers grows

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Being a travel adviser may be right for you if you have strong opinions about where potential clients should visit.
AARP; (Source: Stocksy; Getty Images (2))

Recent signs point to a boom in the use of travel advisers or travel agents by consumers. (Travel professionals increasingly prefer the term “travel adviser” to more accurately describe the service they provide.)

More than half (55 percent) of U.S.-based travel advisers increased their sales in 2023 over 2022, according to Travel Agent Central’s fourth-quarter Travel Trends & Advisor Insight Report. In addition, TravelAge West reported that 47 percent of people surveyed by IBS Software said they were using in-person or online travel agents to book vacations.

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With such demand, you could be wondering if a second career as a travel adviser might be for you. Here’s what you should know before getting started.

A passion for travel is required

If you’re detail-oriented, organized, customer service-oriented and have a passion for travel — and opinions about where potential clients should go — a part- or full-time career as a travel adviser might be for you.

But first, a little background on the business.

The American Society of Travel Advisors offers several online courses (some of them, from brand partners, including cruises and resorts, are free) to aspiring travel advisers, covering subjects such as regulatory compliance and professional fees. The website also has a free downloadable digital booklet with background information on becoming a travel adviser.

But there is no specific education requirement for becoming a travel adviser, says Henley Vazquez, cofounder of Fora, one of the many host agencies that provide resources such as marketing, back-end technology and brand perks for travel advisers. That said, travel advisers in the U.S. are required to have an IATA number (International Air Transport Association, a trade association of the world’s airlines) in order to book and issue airline tickets and earn commissions. And while you can go through the IATA accreditation process on your own, it’s easier when you’re first starting out to join a host agency and work under its umbrella, Vazquez says.

In many cases, aligning with a host agency, for which you’d be an independent contractor or 1099 employee, simplifies the process of getting started as a travel adviser too.

You can access perks that often vary depending on the agency but probably include training and back-office support, booking tools, leads and professional liability insurance in the form of errors and omissions insurance, says Anne Scully of New York City–based host agency Embark Beyond.

“Marketing and training are paramount in who we are; we give our advisers many opportunities to travel so they can grow in knowledge,” she says. “We also have a team that help[s] with technology, and we help with them earning higher commissions from our partnerships.”

A Google search reveals no shortage of host agencies in the U.S. where you can get started as a travel adviser. But narrowing down the options can be daunting.

A host agency that requires no sales minimums for maintaining membership can help take off some of the pressure to perform. Fora charges travel advisers $49 per month or $299 a year to access membership benefits and support.

Embark Beyond doesn’t charge independent contractors a fee to join as a member — if they’re selected, Scully says, adding that only about 1 in every 10 applicants is chosen. The agency does charge a fee (Scully calls it “beyond reasonable”) for its apprenticeship program for travel advisers. At Fora, you apply through the website, says Vazquez. The application includes questions about your favorite hotels, who you are as a traveler and what you would bring to a travel business, she says.

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So knowing what you like and don’t like when it comes to travel is an advantage.

“A successful travel adviser needs to be opinionated about travel,” Vazquez says. “To be a travel adviser, you need to be a little bossy about what you think is good and bad.”

Travel advisers earn money from commissions — usually 10 to 15 percent of a trip’s total cost, according to Fora, of which the host agency takes a cut. Fora, for example, takes 30 percent of the commission and the travel adviser gets 70 percent.

Scully says Embark Beyond advisers, who also work on a commission split, “tend to sell high-end and some incredible bookings,” with sales anywhere from $10,000 to $500,000. There were even a few sales at $1 million, she says.

Some advisers also charge consultation fees for their time and expertise. For these fees, Scully says, “advisers are independent and can charge what their time is worth per booking.” Charging $1,000 for an intensive itinerary of a week’s length is considered “normal” for the company’s independent contractors.

“We want advisers that are caring and knowledgeable and willing to share with others,” she says. “Our advisers support each other every day through [WhatsApp].… Everyone is here to help each other.” 

A rewarding second career

Martha Pearlstone, 59, from Wilton, Connecticut, says she’s always been passionate about travel. But she decided to become a Fora travel adviser after a long career in advertising and once she became an empty nester.

“I was starting to think about what I could do that was maybe more passion-driven and less focused on building the career and bank account,” she says. Pearlstone filled out the Fora application in 2022 and decided she’d spend a year seeing if she could get any traction and build her own business as a travel adviser.

Once accepted, she blasted an announcement out to contacts she had accrued over more than 35 years and let them know she was working as a travel adviser.

“The response was overwhelming and very positive,” Pearlstone says. In her first year, she says, she booked more than 60 trips for clients ranging from honeymoons in Italy to a 40th-anniversary surprise vacation to Greece and a mother-daughter trip to Egypt.

She points to Fora’s comprehensive training and the community of other travel advisers as crucial to helping her be successful. Still, she warns those just starting out not to expect to rake in the money overnight.

“It’s not the kind of thing where you’re going to be able to quit your job and support yourself from day one,” she says. “We don’t get compensated until after our clients have made the trip. So if you’re booking out six months, it’s a long lead. It’s best to start with money in the bank.”

MaryAnne Koenigsberg, 66, an independent travel adviser with Take Flight Travel, located in Queens, New York, has worked as a travel adviser for the company since 1993, when she left a career managing hair salons in department stores across the U.S.

“I was at a point in my life where I could choose to just do whatever I wanted and not worry too much about the financial ramifications,” she says about her career switch. “I decided to become a travel agent because I love to travel.” 

For many people, the flexibility of being a travel adviser is another attractive perk.

“The beauty of [the] travel industry is that you can work as much or as little as you choose,” Koenigsberg says. “If you’re willing to get out there, network and promote yourself, you can make a very decent living.”

Vazquez says a lack of ageism in the industry, which is predominantly led by women, is also appealing.

“Age is not really a factor that you find in this environment.… We are female-led, and you don’t age out,” she says. “You can start this job at 55 and do it until you’re 75. And you’re accepted based on your sales.”

Age and experience can be an advantage when it comes to building a client list, Vazquez says. You can tap the contacts you’ve built through the PTA, a running club, a book club and the like. 

“That’s a network you have that can now become your professional clients,” she says.

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