Q: I'm interested in starting an Internet-based travel agency directed at college-age "spring breakers." While I've done a little research regarding existing companies, I'm not sure what to do now. How do I make this dream a reality?
A: I've received several similar e-mails from other readers. These days it seems like everyone wants to get into the travel industry. Don't let me rain on your parade-or your vacation-but like starting any business, you're going to have to spend a lot of time and money, and draw on your patience. Since there are so many people interested in breaking into the travel industry, there are plenty of tales of failure. Then again, there are lots of success stories, which means one more thing: stiff competition and thin margins.
Still interested? Good. If you made it through the previous paragraph and still want to get into the travel industry, you've passed the first test.
Breaking into the travel industry is rarely a get-rich-quick experience. Most people who have truly succeeded in this business started out at the lowest rung and worked their way up.
It took me at least five years of study, networking and patience to turn a profit as a travel writer and consultant. (To see what I've created over the past 12 years, visit http://www.travelskills.com.)
Are you still interested? Then start off by doing your homework. You can do a lot of this online by reading these publications:
Travel Weeklyis the top trade magazine among U.S. travel agents.
Positive Spaceis a recent online up-and-comer managed by an ex-travel agent.
Another good source of travel industry news with a business slant is Business Travel News.
Once you've picked up on industry trends and lingo by reading the trade magazines, start networking. Due to the inherent nature of the travel industry, people are usually open, honest and friendly. Meet other travel professionals by attending a travel industry trade show, or get involved with trade organizations like the America Society of Travel Agents.
Since you want to become a travel agent, deciding on a specific area of interest and becoming a specialist is a good idea. Travel agents who are nothing more than ticket processors are a dying breed. But those offering value-added advice in areas such as cruise bookings or student travel (as you mentioned) should do quite well. Be prepared: It's going to take some time and effort on you part. Good luck and bon voyage!
Christopher J. McGinnis is the owner of Travel Skills Group, an Atlanta-based communications and consulting firm specializing in the business travel industry. He comments periodically on trends and issues affecting business travelers on the Weather Channel, CNN and other TV and radio networks. Chris also writes business travel columns and newsletters that appear in a variety of media. His latest book, The Unofficial Business Travelers Pocket Guide(McGraw-Hill), was released in August 1998. For more information, see http://www.travelskills.com.
The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of Entrepreneur.com. All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.