How to Start a Travel Service

A Closer Look at Corporate Travel Services

Leisure travel may make up 80 percent or more of the $1.3 trillion travel industry, but if you want to make big money, starting a corporate travel service could be the way to go.

Even though the economy cyclically ascends and plunges like a careening roller coaster and companies slash their travel expenditures in response, the corporate travel industry manages to remain strong. The National Business Travel Association's Business Travel Overview and Cost Forecast indicates that even though corporate travel managers will continue to try to contain costs and push for value for the companies they work for, nearly 68 percent expect their companies' traveling executives to take more business trips, and nearly 46 percent think their companies will send a greater number of people out on the road. In addition, nearly 38 percent anticipate that travel management company (TMC) contracts will open for bid in the near future as a way to trim costs.

Ways to Enter the Field
You have several viable options for building your corporate travel business. Your choices include working as:

An independent contractor who is part of a corporate travel team: Corporate travel departments often experience highs and lows in business travel and may need someone knowledgeable to step in during the peaks. Because you're a contractor, you could actually be on call for more than one travel department. But as a professional courtesy, you'll want to let your clients know you're working for others. It's possible to work either onsite for these departments or from the comfort of your home office.

An independent contractor with a TMC: You'd pretty much have the same arrangement as you would with a corporate travel department. The difference is you're likely to work on bigger accounts (since TMCs often have a big stable of large clients), which means your take after splitting with the house could be much higher. You might work onsite for the company or in a home office.

A homebased independent contractor: In this manifestation you would have to land your own clients and service your little heart out to keep them happy. This is the way both Khan and Bill Jilla, the Florida homebased travel service owner, operate. Often, when you're first starting out, you will have to make cold sales calls to find clients, which can be difficult if you don't naturally have a gift of gab or you're on the reserved side. In addition, cold calling can be demoralizing: a 20 percent success rate (2 out of 10 calls) is considered fantastic when it comes to cold calling, although your rate will probably be much lower-5 percent or less-because that's just the way it goes with cold calling. The important thing is not to take rejection seriously and to soldier on, but sometimes that can be difficult.

Responsibilities
Corporate travel service business owners often handle a wide range of responsibilities. In addition to booking airline tickets (and adding a service fee to them to offset the zero commission rate) and performing all the other booking services that go along with being a travel agent, corporate travel agents may also offer additional services:

  • Finding last-minute deals for last-minute bookings
  • Offering assistance with visas and passports
  • Coordinating airport transportation
  • Researching destinations for company fact-finding missions
  • Handling executives' special requests (i.e., having cardio equipment delivered to a hotel room, arranging for limousines, etc.)
  • Making all the arrangements necessary for a company to hold or attend conventions or conferences
  • Providing other meeting and group planning services
  • Providing custom travel management and expense reports to help companies keep travel costs under control

By the very nature of the corporate business model, many of these services may be requested with little notice. But rather than being a nuisance, rush jobs are an opportunity to charge higher fees, including expedited service fees, although you should play that one by ear. You may not want to ratchet up fees for a valued client who gives you a lot of business unless the work is always on a rush basis.

Clientele
Virtually any company is a potential client, although larger companies with a lot of employees on the road are probably more likely to be open to the idea of contracting out their travel service needs. Your clients are mostly likely to include:

  • Companies that are too small to have their own travel staff and too busy to spend much time doing it themselves
  • Corporate travel departments that can use an extra hand from an independent contractor
  • Travel management companies that need ongoing assistance
  • High-level executives who travel so much they need a dedicated travel services person to handle their arrangements
  • Entertainers, musicians (including bands) and professional athletes

How to Start a Travel Service

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