Top 20 things every travel agent should do right now, online and offline

NB: This is a guest article by Brian Tan, founder and CEO of Zicasso, an online luxury travel referral service that connects consumers with the top travel specialists.

In recent months, some industry research reports found that more consumers are now inclined to use a good travel agent, reversing a downward trend.

That’s good news for the offline agent industry and certainly there are many reasons for optimism.

However, the travel agent industry continues to be a challenge, with very low average annual incomes and almost no top young talent joining the industry. Yet, there are still those who perform much better than the rest.

As CEO of Zicasso, it’s been part of my job to find these top performers, partner with them, coach them, and make them even better performers.

Based on my interactions with them and analysis of thousands of traveler-and-travel-specialist interactions on Zicasso, I’ve put together a list of 20 useful tips for travel agents.

The ideas in the list are things that every agent can do – right now – in order to adapt to and thrive in today’s environment, in which travelers want personalized attention, good value, and the convenience of the internet.

1. Specialize

Pick a few destinations or activities and resolve to be a better expert at them than anyone else. Consumers now have access to so much travel information, particularly at their fingertips via the Internet that they have themselves become “generalist travel agents.”  When they seek help, they’re seeking a true specialist.

2. Personalize

Differentiate yourself from DIY, self-service online solutions – and instead give consumers highly personalized service, recommendations, etc., right from your very first interaction with them — whether online, by phone or in-person.

3. Develop a repertoire of unique experiences and special access

It’s all about selling experiences. The more unique, the more value you’re adding.  The more you can get clients access to special events or people, the more differentiated you are.

4. Be complex

Consumers can book the simple trips themselves (e.g. point-to-point trips such as Seattle to Las Vegas). Travelers really need agents for complex trips (e.g. longer international trips or cruises).  Your energy and specialization should be on these complex trips.

5. Go upmarket

Segment the market into two traveler types: Those with more money than time, and those with more time than money.  Agents can only compete for the former segment’s business.  Travelers with more money than time value purchasing a travel agent’s expertise and ability to handle every aspect of the trip.

6. Work with net rates rather than take commission

Especially for custom tours, agents should consider getting net rates from suppliers and marking them up rather than taking commission. This gives pricing flexibility and better cash flow, and reduces the hassle of collecting commission.

7. Constantly do a self-check: Am I delivering the best value?

The market’s constantly changing. For all your products and services that you offer, are you getting competitive rates?  Do you have a variety of strategies to get your clients the most value?

8. Master your pitch

Have you perfected your pitch if clients ask: “Tell me about yourself and your agency,” or “What makes you different from other agents?”  What are the top three messages in your pitch?  Memorize them.

9. Brush up on “trusted advisor” sales skills

It’s a consultative sales job: Most agents can sell a lot more if they can be perceived as a trusted advisor. This means relationship-building and trust-building skills rather than pushy sales skills.

10. Develop a trusted reputation/brand

Get yourself or your agency written up in national media or at least your local newspaper.  Join the BBB.  Get clients to write you endorsements on LinkedIn.  Build your reputation with real traveler reviews on a referral service.

11. Have a good website

Many agents have websites that do them a disservice.  Agent websites need three key things: good design + compelling content + easy to maintain/update.  If you don’t have a good web developer, use services like Intuit Websites or HP LogoWorks.

12. Be incredibly responsive & reachable – use a smartphone

Even when you’re not at the office, use a smartphone to be extremely responsive through voice, email, and social media. Use Google Voice to have one number that rings you at your landline, mobile, or any other number.

13. Improve process efficiency

Most agents have plenty of opportunities to be more efficient in their operational processes. For example, streamline the time to develop a custom itinerary, the time to price a quote, etc.

14. Know when to ask for a fee

I don’t believe there’s a cookie cutter answer on when to ask for a planning fee or good faith deposit. Make a judgment call on this for various types of clients.

15. Engage with social media

I highly recommend a Facebook Page for your travel business. Get your clients to be fans and to post reviews of your services.   Engage them with insights and tips.

It is fine to post some specials or deals, but a Facebook page is best used when it’s less about selling and more about engaging with fans and being helpful with your knowledge. As an example, check out the Zicasso Facebook Page.

16. Partner to get new leads

Be a good marketer – or if you’re not, hire a marketing agency to help you, or use a travel referral service like Zicasso for targeted, pre-qualified luxury leads.  Save yourself the time and focus on the selling.

17. Improve your writing/email skills

Many clients prefer email communications. Good writing is a sales skill that helps build trust and relationship with clients. Take a class to improve this skill and you’ll also improve sales conversion.

18. Sharpen your first response to clients

Obsess over the quality of your first interaction with a new client, whether it’s a phone call or an email.  Making a good first impression plays a major role in sales conversion.

19. Don’t sell deals: Sell expertise!

Many agents advertise deals on their website and send the message that they can find the best deals. It’s tough to beat deals on the Internet, and will be even tougher going forward. Transform your business and your message to sell expert advice and personalized service.

20. Be a lifelong student of change

This industry has changed tremendously and the pace of change will only accelerate. Be a constant student of best practices and be ready to adapt and adopt new ways of doing things….no matter how many years you’ve been in the industry.

And lastly…

I have a request of everyone: as you achieve success, be a role model for the next generation of young agents.

Recruit, inspire, and mentor them.  This industry desperately needs new blood and young talent will only join when they see successful role models.  I wish everyone great success in your continued business endeavors.

NB: This is a guest article by Brian Tan, founder and CEO of Zicasso, an online luxury travel referral service that connects consumers with top travel specialists.

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About the Writer :: Viewpoints

A founding principle of tnooz was a diversity of viewpoints from across the spectrum. Viewpoints are articles by guest contributors from around the travel and hospitality industries. The views expressed are those of the author. and do not necessarily reflect those of the author's employer, or tnooz and its partners.



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  1. Lynn Foy

    Good job!! This post is very helpful for those who are looking to be a professional travel agent or want to start new business as a travel agency. Thanks for sharing post.

  2. sonam penjor

    I have gone through above guide lines for travel agent. Hope it is going to help.

  3. Evans

    Very useful article, especially for people like us that are new in the industry. I wish to have more of this.

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  5. Terry

    If you are a new agent be very wary of predator travel agencies that charge u.
    They will make you sign contracts for everything and if u want to leave they will keep charging.

  6. Sandra

    The top thing I ever did as a travel agent was signup for International Holidays. Working with them was a real game changer.

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  9. J. Johnson

    Sensational article! We are in the midst of rebranding and this article was exactly what was needed at this particular moment. #19 is key!!! Many thanks for this piece, written so long ago, but still very relevant today.

  10. Terry

    How much does Picasso charge the travel agent to refer them?

  11. Sahil

    I’d also recommend leveraging technology! Travel agents need to start looking at technology as a positive rather than as a rival, and invest in tech that helps streamline processes, reduce costs, and helps with customer retention/acquisition

    At Sujester, we have a travel inspiration web platform to help travel agents better retain customers and grow via digital word of mouth.

  12. Brian D. Robb

    I really like Brian Tan’s closing comment where he challenges experienced agents to “Recruit, inspire, and mentor.” This is a great way to “pay it forward” in an industry where agents’ value is greater than ever.

  13. Gary Wilson

    Great article for someone like me starting a new business venture in a few weeks

  14. Abdul Sheikh

    Thank you, Mr. Brian, for the insights and must-do in creating travel business that have its customers (internal and external ) at heart. As a recent startup,, had made many strides in using valuable info like yours. But alot need to be done as we progress in time. Thumps up for the work.

    • Hitesh Samyani

      Abdul, I’m glad to see entrepreneurs like you. I loved your idea of touching users heart. The major responsibility of an OTA is to assuage his customers and to build trust. You can easily achieve that task by concentrating on niche considerations on your website.

      Let me know if I can be useful in any technical aspect of building your travel empire. I’ll be more than happy to become your success advisor.

  15. Best Bhutan by Triip

    Very well written article by Brian. I just want to emphasize one thing that with online booking and sales in general, building trust is super important. Perhaps it’s the most important thing a customer looks for while considering booking a trip. Good luck building and maintaining your reputation.

  16. Elaine Parker

    Great article Brian. We are all about helping travel companies to do just this (well all of the online strategies and social media integration). I’ll look forward to reading more of your blogs.

  17. Hajar

    I totally agree with the ideas here. Most of tourists who want to book a travel package have confusion, and I think tips you share in this post can minimize the confusion.
    Very good job!

  18. James Opiyo

    Good article please send me more

  19. Travelpointng

    Mr Brian, thank you for imparting the young agents like ours with your incomparable experience in this industry.
    A big time role model you are and no doubt about it..

  20. Rahul

    Thank you so much Mr. Brian Tan for sharing your valueable knowledge and experiences with us.

  21. Veenu

    Very useful article for new travel startups Diego. Travel industry has become one of the most lucrative sector now a days and there are numerous business models which can be tapped into. Most popular business models in this sector are – online travel booking website, Travel affiliate website, Online travel activity marketplace and many more. Now e-commerce platforms have made it very easy for the startups to launch new website quickly at economical price. There are different ecommerce platforms for every business models, for eg: Fun-away has been designed to launch online travel activity marketplace. It is the most popular and trending startup idea presently.

  22. Shahid Majeed

    Its a really great and very informative article.. Thank you

  23. Rebecca

    Great article.Thank you

  24. Lakenz

    Fantastic article Brian! I sure will be here again soon.
    Thank you.

  25. Taj Frederick

    Thank you Brian for this brilliant list. This helps so much in promoting travel agencies and the like. This article will also open up the minds of agents who might want to mentor young professionals to follow their success in the business..

  26. Christian

    This will be the third time am reading this article to see if am on the right direction in promoting my agency (Airgate Travel and Tours Ltd). Appreciate ur article just that I still need yo know how to meet new clients.

  27. Tayna

    I really liked your post! I was talking to my husband and said how cool would it be to provid our unique California vacation to others. We really get into family travel. This year we went looking for big foot. We even arrange for a Bigfoot siting!

  28. Kunal Priyadarshi

    Though I was doing some of these, I never thought of some of them which are their in the list like Specialize and Personalize. I will try to them and hope this will boost my sales. Thanks for the post.


    Thanks for the article. Its great and educative. I am working as a travel consultant, so my job is to raise new ideas on how to improve sales in my company so this really helped me.

  30. Rishabh Shukla

    Very great article and very informative. I am also a new entrepreneur and will take all your points seriously. Thanks.

  31. Sam Bray

    Great article! Given me plenty of ideas to try this year. As a new golf operator in the industry blogs like this give us confidence that we are providing a service that our prospective clients are going to want to use!

  32. Kevin

    As a new agent, this was a great article! I really like what you said about mentoring at the end. I would love to have someone help me!

  33. Tatyana

    Great article! Saved it in Bookmarks. Definitely will try some of these ideas. Thanks! Wish everyone a successful 2016 tour season!

  34. Mirza

    Very informative well written article.
    I am in business since 1983, I feel the Airline industry lacks Business ethics.
    Your source meaning the Airlines, Vacation package whole sellers,
    The Cruise liners etc., are competing with you !
    The sales support has diminished !
    You hardly have any net fares, commissions have dropped, in some cases to Zero.
    This is not even a bare survival.
    Just, food for thoughts.

  35. Thinlay

    This is very informative and helpful to the agent like us. Thank You

  36. Tiger Photography

    Very Well written article by Brian, I have few inputs to add here. Marketing of the business is key in travel industry. It pays to find out where the prospects hang out and market them accordingly. Secondly, building bonds within the industry helps. Third, finding out the reason for travel can lead to a better planned trip and overall success.

  37. Steph

    Thank you so much for this article. Very helpful for someone just getting started. 🙂

  38. Toni Reid

    GREAT article and very informative!

  39. John Bosco

    Dear Brain,
    Thank you very much for your advise. I’m planning to start a travel & tourism service.

    • Anilkumar

      John We could work together for Indian desintations as i am a Travel Agent selling Indian Destinations…

    • Sandip

      Dear Brain,
      I am also thinking to start Tourism Business in Nepal. Nepal is home for a world’s roof Mt. Everest. You may like to know more about Nepal ( if in case you do not know much about this Country). This country is full of opportunity for Tourism business. Perhaps since both of us are in planning phase to establish business perhaps our partnership could benefit to each other. Kindly write to me if you wish to explore more about Nepal and if possible our partnership to operate Tourism Business at

  40. pankaj

    Dear Brain, Thank you so much for your input.
    Regards, Pankaj

  41. SAFRAN .A

    Good …. but including luangage skills

  42. Travel Agent Hanoi

    Very well written article and certainly a few great pointers that I could use in my goal to become a better travel agent here in Hanoi, Vietnam. I have many enquiries online for package holidays through Vietnam but the hard part is actually in the closing. In the office, you can generally tell when someone will buy or not. On-line it can be very hard to know whether they are just tyre kickers or genuine possible clients. Cheers


    Wish We knew then what We know now…this part get us the most : ” be a role model of the next generation of young agents ” thanks for the great post and inspirational advise. Will do what it takes to be the most wanted travel and holiday partners. Thank You.

  44. waheed

    Good tips

  45. Nazrin Idham Razali

    Dear Sir/Madam

    I am recently open my home based travel agency. We having a difficulty of marketing our brand and because we have a zero capital after we open the company. Can you help us by giving us an ideas to get client offline and online? Our website in Malaysian cost us so much almost $5000 USD to do the website and some of them charges u $150 per year for maintaining the website. So, what should I do? If can we would like to put our price online. But, we concern of our competitors.

    • Nicholas Cureton

      Dear Nazrin,
      WordPress is best for your company website because it’s easy to update and maintain yourself. Buy domain name for 10$ per year. Find best theme for your web.


    Yes its all about the trust one generates. I am sure many of us will agree with it. Its all about being true and having concern for time and money that one would like to invest for a great experience. I thank you for sharing this thought. I personally believe in it and have experienced it.

    Thank to all and appreciate the trust generated by many recommendations which follow in return.Every year traveler has thus increased, that gave and continues to give me the opportunity to organize unforgettable moments.

  47. Jayesh Pau

    Great Post, Thanks for your efforts to create awesome post, it will help to many OTA (Online Travel Agents), most important thing is create the awareness of your Brand and trust on users, there is many great ways to marketing of your business. Develop creative website with great booking engine and other features, put your efforts in online marketing to generate traffics and revenue.

  48. Agnieszka

    I just graduated and due to my interests and travel experienced I decided to open ecotourism business in Poland. In fact the article is exactly what I want the company to be. But I must say that even if I “know” what to do, it’s damn difficult. I have a crisis at least twice a month. But well… Let’s see.

  49. racheal

    i am 26 years, my interst is on the lastly bit, its very true there will be no young blood joining the industry once there are no successful role models because times are tough and there is need to strive for the best where ther is the best. am writting from Uganda, A frica

    • Simon peter lee

      Hello Racheal good to hear form you i am form Uganda too yes the problem we have today is that people have not yet understood the industry and others do it just for money not that love it , i have put myself in the Honeymoon that is where i am and that is what i i do.

  50. Nachiket Patil

    Thank you so much Mr.Brian Tan.

  51. Hildah Nthatsi

    Thank you for the tips- Please be our Mentor- we are struggling to make ends meet in marketing and we really need of a mentor and tips/tricks on how to tackle markteing .

  52. Triin Linamagi

    Good tips and advice in terms of becoming a good agent!

    When it comes to travel agencies and growing sales, as Romen mentioned, it is a bit more tricky. A lot of TextMagic customers are travel agencies. So we recently decided to share our advice and experience when it comes to travel industry and driving sales.

    So I can give you 5 tips how you can definitely grow customer loyalty, which I believe equals to bigger sales numbers. This is just one of the opportunities but may get you started. At least British Airways and already do use those tricks.

    Hopefully it helps you:

  53. Somen Ray

    Hi…. I am really confused how to increase the sale in our company without any branding or investment or taking risk. Because our proprietor is not going to do any of this. So i couldn`t get how to do increase the sale..

    Please help me with this as soon as possible.

    Hope you will give me better result.

  54. karan jaswal

    Brain Tan !!

    First of all , let me congratulate you with such an impressive article you have post for travel associates.

    Personalizing and getting an expertise to a specific kind of tourism is actually beneficial a lot. We have stick to it from the very start .. Being a founder director , i have always strive hard to focus on my core strength i.e Adventure Tourism . And its my continuous effort to explore best possible Adventure Destinations in INDIA.

    We as a team has succeeded in launching ourselves as one of the companies offering Adventure tourism at its best. And we have followed the same rule ” Specialize and Personalize ”

    The highly impressive point is Number 19 : Don`t sell a deal , share the expertise !!!

    Its our relentless efforts towards sharing the destinations to our sacred clients and friends. The best thing is they appreciate it. And once you are read or listened to , the leads are generated at its own 🙂 you don`t need to run after them ….

    Wish you all the best . And let us know how can we share things further.

    Greets and a very happy new year eve to you !!!

    Cheers !!

  55. Christa

    Brian Tan please be my mentor!! I am desperate to learn.

  56. ayman

    that was really helpful thank you..

  57. Cherlyn

    Please help me out with tips I’m recently starting a travel agency in south Africa

  58. Bryce

    Great points on the importance of branding, an online presence, specialization, and adapting to the current marketplace. As someone who provides blog services to travel agents ( I wish more agents would follow this advice–it would bring in more clients!

  59. Joe

    Hi Brian,

    Great article! I definitely agree that successful agencies today really have to find their niche and focus on their specializations, which is going to be the main driver of growth in the industry.

    Having said that, there’s one point I wanted to touch upon- namely, the idea that agents should work with net rates. One disadvantage that could present itself is the fact that when the agent presents the itinerary to the traveler, the traveler may then check the rates online and see that the agent marked up the trip, which is not likely to foster a good relationship between the two (even with high end travelers). As much as possible, travel agents should strive to work with wholesalers that are going to pay them in a reasonable amount of time, this way the agent can even present marketing materials with pricing to the client in order to show off the incredible deal the agent netted them. That’s why we make sure the owners on Travel Rental Network ( are ready to pay an agent commission out of the price listed, and even allow agents to print out listings with the pricing, photos, and description intact, but with the owner’s contact info removed (to ensure that the agent remains the sole point of contact).

    Other than that caveat, though, I definitely enjoyed the article, and it was a great summary of how successful agencies are moving forward.

    – Joe

  60. Abhimanyu

    Mostly well laid out points here. However, there are a couple of things that should be noted.

    “Those with more money than time, and those with more time than money. Agents can only compete for the former segment’s business.” That’s good theory. But even the best of travelers are today looking for bargains. No one wants to let go of a good deal. A LOT of times, you end up sitting in an auction than a custom journeys firm.

    Product knowledge is often lacking in small agents. And as someone above pointed out, it should be one area where an agent simply cannot afford to lag.

    Do have a couple of question on Zicasso (actually quite intrigued to see some companies on your partner list which do not anywhere close to qualify what you seem to be selling). If you are open to it, we can take it up offline.

  61. Dorothy

    Just curious as to what Zicasso believes makes a top travel specialist (is it in terms of bringing in profit, clientele or developing expertise in specific destinations through years of experience in the industry and in travelling) and how one’s name can be added to this list.

  62. Brian Tan

    @Jess K. – Thanks for your comments. In my point #1 on Specialization, I wrote “Pick a few destinations” –so yes, I think it’s prudent to be extremely good in more than one destination. For example, pick 2 countries in Europe, 2 in So. America, and 2 in Africa (or Australia / NZ). This reduces dependency on a single country AND smoothes out seasonality of business. It’s a manageable number of destinations to maintain true expertise.

    While it’s impressive that you’ve been to 133 countries, it would be incredibly impressive if you can be a true expert in all of them. I would venture to guess that most agents can’t do that.

    Regarding your comment about Zicasso: We are actually a referral service network and not an agency. We match travelers to top travel specialists on our network. Each specialist is an expert in typically a few countries. Thus, we can service over 50 countries (via our travel specialist partners).

  63. JESS K

    Some good points, however, focusing on one destination is NOT the thing to do in todays world. i.e say one was a Egypt, New Zealand, or Japan specialist only, they would be out of business! There used to be a concept called 80/20 rule. As a Manager of Sales and Marketing for a Major International carrier I fought that concept for years, and still disagree. If travel agents focus on one specialty and forgo other destinations, they very strongly face the possibility of losing their clients who want a more ’rounded’ knowledgeable agent that is familiar with the world. Looking at the Zicasso site it appears they have tours all over the world, not just specialized in one area. In my case I have been to 133 destinations around the world and sailed over 100 cruises and feel I can do justice to all the destinations and selling cruises. Knowing tour operators and their specialties is much more important. Specializing in [A} destination means you will deal with new clients all the time and never establish a long term relationship with the client and their family. Very few clients go back to the same destination over and over again.

  64. Hilde Geerkens

    You are so right! We are trying to do so within a community/cooperation.(see URL)
    Good summary!

  65. Bruce Martin

    A very good list but it’s a shame that ‘continually improve product knowledge’ is not considered to be a top 20 tip. The article suggests agents should become experts but doesn’t suggest how.

    Agent product know-how is one of the key reasons people use agents in the first place and so *maintaining* this ‘expert’ status is key for agents.

    Agent product training is increasingly popular with both agents & suppliers saying it’s a vital to business. Travel agent road-shows appear to be ever-popular in the UK, with seemingly more and more events taking place and new event providers entering the market.

    At we have seen a huge growth in popularity for product e-learning in the last few years with 80 product courses now live and over 20,000 courses passes in 2010. We survey agents to ask WHY they complete e-learning and the #1 reason is always “to increase product knowledge”. The fact that so many agents take time to engage with e-learning tells us they see a real commercial benefit to continual product learning.

    But hats off to Brian, it was a formidable list!

    • Gargi Adhikari

      Hello! Brian Tan,.

      Gargi here from ICMS TRAVEL & TOURISM. We are into both home & abroad tours. Thanks a lot for giving us such a brilliant idea! We will definitely work on it. Great points mentioned on the importance of branding, an online presence, specialization, and adapting to the current marketplace.Thanks a lot once again. I just wanna ask you a question, you have better let us known that how to keep a client & to enhance our business but i would request you to let us know how & from where to get a client? I mean a broker who would provide us clients & at d same time would be genuine,..We will ever remain grateful to you for this.
      Looking forward to your answer at the earliest.

      Best Regards,
      Gargi & ICMS Team.


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