Continuing our regular feature focusing on the most popular small business types, we take a closer look at the role of travel consultants.
What do they do?
Travel consultants help clients in making travel arrangements, for all kinds of trips from business conferences to family vacations.
They help provide quotes to show the best value options available for the customers’ needs, and assist in booking transport, accommodation, activities and generally ensure everything is organised for the client to enjoy their trip.
They can work as contractors or freelancers or for a travel agency, and can work in different areas such as retail, sales or finance.
Whilst it is not necessary to have a degree in order to become a travel consultant and you can often get training on the job, it certainly helps to have third-level education in a relevant field – perhaps in geography, tourism, business, hospitality or foreign languages.
Being able to speak a second language is a huge plus when beginning your journey as a travel consultant, as it helps boost credibility with clients as well as increasing your knowledge of other cultures. It also means you can gain more clients as you’ll be able to converse with more people.
You’ll also need to be very computer-literate to thrive as a travel consultant, so if you’re not already well-versed in email, Microsoft Office and spreadsheets-galore, it’s time to learn.
Work in any related field, including hospitality, sales and customer service, are all hugely beneficial before you apply to a travel agency or before your journey as freelance consultant.
As with consultancy in most areas, the biggest challenges include competing with other big firms and freelancers with more experience than you have. With travel consultancy, you also have the internet to compete with.
Many people like to book their own holidays these days, using a variety of different websites and online tools to find the best and easiest deals.
The key is to find a way to stand out. This might mean having good local knowledge, specialising in certain areas of the world, being able to chat in a few different languages and figuring out a particular strategy to gain clients and keep them loyal to you.
There’s also the challenge of smartphone technology. Software and apps have made many of the basic holiday-booking and researching places much more straight forward, so some small business owners and pleasure-travellers have decided to take these roles on themselves.
This has led to a change in what people want from their travel consultants. Instead of just doing the actual booking, they’re more concerned about receiving advice and guidance, and having someone to rely on to ensure their trip goes smoothly.
As with many small businesses or freelance business, there can be long hours involved. Plus, you need to stay constantly up to date with changes in technology (e.g., new apps), places and prices.
Most jobs are based in big cities, with travel consultancies and agencies in the likes of London the best places to find new work. It can either mean relocating to these centres, or traveling yourself to meet clients.
The job certainly does come with benefits – travel opportunities, competitive pay (particularly if you’re working with added commission or are self-employed) and the opportunity to meet interesting new people are all on your doorstep.
• In 2016, travel agents and tour operators generated revenues of over £33 billion, showing the economic downturn has not really affected the industry
• There were approximately 4.4 thousand travel consultancy companies operating in the UK in 2016, which is down by about 8,000 since 2010
• The number of registered firms is in decline (6,331 in 2015) – a fall of 304 firms from 2014
• According to Statista.com, in 2016 about 7.7 thousand people were employed in the travel consultancy industry
Case study: Abercrombie and Kent
It’s not often that travel consultancies have such an adventurous story behind how they were established, but Abercrombie and Kent’s story is enough to make anyone want to hop on a plane immediately and get exploring.
The business was set up in 1962, after a young man named Geoffrey Kent went motorbiking from Nairobi to Cape Town, adventuring by day, staying in luxurious and memorable accommodation by night. This is where the bases for Abercrombie and Kent came from – the notion of a day packed with excitement, adventure and memory-making, and nights of comfort and luxury.
A&K is more than just a holiday consultancy – it considers itself as delivering experiences, not just “humble holidays”, and Geoff Kent considers his staff a “frontline exploration team”. They offer a lifestyle, not just a holiday which lasts a week or two and then disappears.
In 2017 the group were awarded “Best Luxury Tour Operator” at the News UK Travel Awards, as well as the “Best Small Luxury Tour Operator” in the Telegraph ULTRAS in 2016.
If you’re thinking of setting up a travel consultancy business with a twist, A&K is a good place to start for advice and inspiration.