There is great news for people who love travel and want to start their own travel business: you have options! Ten years ago (and even 5 years ago) the options for people wanting to get into travel were very limited. But now with so many great host agencies out there and more training programs, becoming a profitable travel agent is easier than ever!

First, let me quickly address why you NEED a training program when you are new to the travel business. The route many people take is to sign up with a host agency that has the lowest cost to join, start taking every vendor and destination training program they can get their hands on, and then start posting on social media that they are an agent and wait on the bookings to roll in. Unfortunately for many this route often leads to one of two outcomes: they got frustrated and quit or they had some success but not enough to replace the income of their full-time job (which is the goal of many). Bottom line: product knowledge does NOT equal bookings and income. Being knowledgeable about a vendor doesn’t make bookings for that vendor come rolling in. It simply doesn’t happen.

So, who actually needs a travel agent training program? Anyone who has never worked as a paid travel agent before. Sure, you might have booked your travel and your friends’, but that doesn’t qualify you to be the owner of your own travel agency. And that’s what you are doing when you are independent contractor in the travel business. It is your business and your responsibility to make it work. And to do that you have to take off your employee hat and put on your business owner hat (to borrow a phrase from my colleague Meredith Hill). No one is going to make the business successful for you. It’s your business and your success.

So, if you know you need a travel agent training program, where do you find one? There are a few out there including the one I work with, Travel MBA powered by Gifted Travel Network. But not every program is right for everyone. How do you find the one that works best for you? And how do you even compare the apples to the oranges to the bananas? Here are some suggestions:

First, recognize what you need to learn. You need business training that is specific to the travel industry. Even if you have owned another type of businesses, there are a lot of differences in travel. You need to know how to attract clients. What type of marketing works? How do you effectively use social media? And all that training needs to be specific to travel. You also need to know the best way to make the most money from bookings. There are a lot of ways to increase the amount of money you put in your pocket and that’s what you need to learn upfront – not after you’ve been struggling for a few years. Therefore, it is important to really understand what’s REALLY in the training program you are considering. Is it all vendor training? Is it generic customer service training (I bet you really don’t need to know to smile when you answer the phone)? And most importantly, is the training designed specifically for independent contractors and not those working as an employee in a brick-and-mortar agency?

Second, how is the training delivered? Is it written material, videos, live training, or a combination of all these? Each of us has a different learning style and the ideal program will have a way to deliver the material that will be effective for everyone. Is it delivered on a schedule or on-demand? Your current obligations may make one type more attractive to you than another.

Third, how do you get questions answered? Good training often brings up questions. What do I do if…? How do I handle…? Could I…? When you have questions (and you will probably have lots), who answers them? Is the person who helps you doing this because it is their job, or are you taking them away from something else? How accessible are they? Are questions only answered via email or can you talk to someone?

Fourth, are you completely on your own or will you be learning with others? There are lots of ways a training program can connect people who are completing the same training. You can host group coaching calls where you all learn from one another with the guidance of a mentor. You can have an online community (often a private Facebook group) where people ask questions and get insights from mentors and experienced agents. But being part of a group learning the same material is very powerful. You will learn a lot from the questions others ask – things you might never have thought of! And are there in-person options to connect if you want to?

Finally, how long does this program and its related support last? You cannot learn all you need to know and get a travel business off the ground in 4 weeks. It takes time to create your business plan and marketing structure. If you are looking for a quick way to start making money, travel certainly isn’t it! SO you need to plan to invest some time to get the business off the ground. But just because the program lasts months doesn’t mean you have to finish it before you can start selling. In most you can start selling when you are ready. And you should have the guidance of a mentor for those first few bookings.

Notice that I didn’t include asking about the success of graduates. Why? Because the success the student achieves is so dependent on what they do with what they learn. No matter how much you teach a person about how to be a successful entrepreneur, it is ultimately up to them to utilize what they learned and build a successful business. Some do it with great success and some people decide they aren’t really entrepreneurs after all.

And, of course, these programs aren’t free. They vary in cost greatly but you need to look at the big picture of what you get. The worst-case scenario is to pay for one program and then realize it wasn’t what you needed and have to invest in another one.

It’s important to take some time to compare the components of a program and make sure you are getting what you need. But also listen to your gut. Where do you feel most at home? When you talk to the people in these organizations do they resonate with you? This is going to be your tribe for quite a while so you want to make sure you are comfortable there, but also will be challenged and supported.

But don’t overlook free training opportunities too! And a great one is coming up! Our sister company, Global Institute for Travel Entrepreneurs (GIFTE), is a hosting the 3rd annual Travel Entrepreneurship Week. This is a week-long celebration of the travel entrepreneur where we provide outstanding content to celebrate the people in this industry. You can read more about the sessions (all of which are free!) and reserve your spot by visiting www.TravelEntrepreneurshipWeek.com. And all GIFTE content is completely independent and appropriate for agents affiliated with any agency.