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How to start a travel business in 7 steps



How to start a travel business

Starting a business in the travel industry can be a thrilling and profitable venture. Criteo’s survey reveals that more people worldwide plan to visit friends or family or travel for leisure in the next one to three months in 2024. This surge in global travel presents a golden opportunity for aspiring entrepreneurs to dive into the vibrant travel industry.


This guide will walk you through the steps of starting and managing a successful travel agency, some examples of travel business websites and how to become profitable.



What is a travel business?


A travel business is a service-oriented business that offers clients various travel-related accommodations, amenities and services. Travel agencies typically provide services such as:


  • Trip planning and reservations

  • Transportation services, including flights, car rentals and transfers

  • Accommodations, such as hotels, resorts and vacation rentals

  • Tour guide packages and experiences

  • Travel insurance and assistance services



how to start a travel business, what is a travel business


Why start a travel business?


The travel industry is on an exciting upward trajectory, with a projected annual growth rate of 3.47% globally through 2028. With travelers spending billions every year on accommodations, transportation and other services, the travel sector is a goldmine of potential revenue.


In addition, people want personalized, unique travel experiences tailored to their preferences. Euromonitor International shares that travelers would be willing to pay more for these customized experiences. This means there's a huge opportunity to create your own travel agency that delivers these one-of-a-kind trips and reap big from the growing demand for personalized travel.




How to start a travel business in 7 steps




01. Decide on a travel business niche


The first step to creating a travel business is deciding on the specific niche you want to target. Focusing on a specific market segment—like adventure travel, family vacations, luxury trips, wellness retreats or sustainable tourism—allows you to create experiences that resonate with each traveler. 


It also helps to differentiate your services, position yourself as an expert in the chosen area and effectively target people seeking those particular travel experiences.



start a travel business - choose a travel business niche


02. Create a business plan


A business plan serves as a roadmap for your business and helps you communicate your vision to potential investors when looking for funding. Create a detailed business plan that outlines the key aspects of your company. This includes identifying your target market, summarizing your executive strategy, implementing a marketing strategy and projecting your financials. 


Also, make sure to include important details like the type of business you want to start and your chosen business name.


Here’s a travel business plan template you can use to get started. Adjust and expand the sections based on your specific business model and goals.


Here’s a travel business plan template to get you started:


Travel business plan template


Executive Summary


Business Name: [Your Travel Business Name]

Business Structure: [Sole Proprietorship/Partnership/LLC/Corporation]

Location: [City, State]

Founding Date: [Month, Year]

Founders/Owners: [Names]

Mission Statement: [Concise statement of the business’s purpose]


Business Description


Overview: Briefly describe your travel business, including key features, services and amenities.

Unique Selling Proposition (USP): Clearly define what sets your travel business apart from competitors.

Target Market: Identify your primary customer demographic and market segment.


Services and Amenities


List and describe the travel services and amenities your business will offer.

Include trip planning, transportation, accommodations, tour packages, etc.


Market Analysis


Industry Overview: Provide an overview of the travel industry, including trends and growth projections.

Competitor Analysis: Identify key competitors and analyze their strengths and weaknesses.

Target Audience: Define your target customer profile and their preferences.


Marketing and Sales Strategy


Marketing Plan: Outline your strategies for promoting the travel business, including online and offline channels.

Pricing Strategy: Detail your pricing structure and any promotional pricing.

Sales Tactics: Describe how you will attract clients and increase bookings.


Operational Plan


Location and Facilities: Describe the physical location and facilities of your travel business.

Suppliers: List and describe key suppliers for travel-related services.

Staffing: Outline your staffing plan, including roles and responsibilities.


Financial Plan


Startup Costs: Detail initial investment requirements and startup expenses.

Revenue Projections: Provide realistic revenue projections for the first 3-5 years.

Operating Costs: Outline ongoing operating expenses, including marketing, staff salaries and technology.


Funding Proposal


Purpose of Funding: Clearly state how the funds will be utilized.

Amount Needed: Specify the amount of funding required.

Repayment Plan: Outline the proposed repayment plan for loans or investments.


Risk Analysis


Identify potential risks and challenges that may impact the success of your travel business.

Develop strategies to mitigate and manage these risks.


Appendices


Include any additional documents or information relevant to your business plan.

Examples: Market research data, resumes of key team members, mock-ups of marketing materials.


Conclusion


Summarize the key points of your business plan and highlight the potential success of your travel business.

Conclude with a call to action or next steps.


Note: This template serves as a general guide. Adjust and expand sections based on your specific business model and goals.



03. Select a business structure


Here, you get to choose the business structure that best suits your goals. Common options like a sole proprietorship, partnership, limited liability company (LLC) or corporation each have their own pros and cons.


For example, a sole proprietorship is easy to set up and you have complete control over the business. But there isn't a legal distinction between you and the business, which means you take personal responsibility for all debt, losses and taxes. 


On the other hand, a corporation offers limited personal liability, which allows shareholders to purchase stock without worrying about their private assets being used to clear loans if the company goes into debt. However, setting up a corporation can be complex and costly. You may also get double taxation (on profits and dividends).


Learn more: How to start an LLC 



how to start a travel business - choose business entity


04. Obtain business financing or capital


While starting a travel business can be quite an adventure, it also comes with significant upfront costs. You'll need money to get things rolling and keep your business afloat. This might mean taking out bank loans, hunting for grants or attracting investments from stakeholders.


You must first calculate how much capital you need to start and run your business until it becomes self-sustaining. Some expenses to consider include:


  • Building a website and maintaining it

  • Marketing and advertising campaigns

  • Trip planning software and tools

  • Reservation systems and travel management software

  • Staff recruitment and travel agent training

  • Initial salaries and benefits for employees

  • Transportation services (e.g., vehicle fleet or partnerships with transportation providers)

  • Technology infrastructure (computers, servers, etc.)

  • Licensing and permits for operating a travel business

  • Insurance coverage for travel-related risks

  • Office space and utilities

  • Professional services (legal, accounting, etc.)


Next, consider the various sources of funding for your travel business. Each funding option has its own requirements, benefits and levels of risk. Explore multiple avenues to find the best fit for your business model. 


Some common options include:


  • Personal savings: Using your savings can help you fund your business without taking on debt. But you need to have enough reserves to cover business expenses and emergencies.

  • Bank loans: To qualify, you’ll need a strong credit history and a solid business plan. Be prepared to provide collateral and demonstrate your ability to repay the loan.

  • Small Business Administration (SBA) loans: SBA loans are designed to support small businesses and often come with favorable terms. The application process can be lengthy, but the benefits are worth the effort.



how to start a travel business - how to raise money for a business


05. Set up accounting and bookkeeping systems


Invest in reliable accounting software that suits your business needs to establish strong accounting and bookkeeping systems. Popular options like QuickBooks and Xero offer features tailored for small businesses, such as invoicing, expense tracking and financial reporting. 


It's also best to open a dedicated business bank account to separate your business and personal finances. This will simplify bookkeeping and make sure you record all business transactions accurately.



06. Source specific travel equipment


The right equipment can enhance the quality of your services, boost customer satisfaction and help you stand out in a competitive market. Consider the type of travel experiences you want to offer and the specific requirements of your target audience. 


Then, make a list of necessary items such as:


  • Trip planning software and tools

  • Reservation management software

  • Vehicles (if you provide transportation services)

  • Communication systems (like phones and email)

  • Office furniture and supplies

  • Technology infrastructure (like computers and servers)


Some equipment, like cars, might be too expensive to purchase outright. So, consider renting or leasing options. That way, you can access high-quality equipment without a significant initial investment.



07. Register your travel business


After writing your business plan and choosing your business structure and name, it’s time to register with federal and state governments to legally operate your travel business. 


This includes filing the necessary paperwork to create your business entity, such as articles of incorporation for a corporation or articles of organization for an LLC. You must also get an Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the IRS for tax purposes.


In addition, depending on your location and specific services, you may have to get various licenses and permits. These could include a general business license, a seller of travel (SOT) license or specific industry-related permits. Research the requirements in your state and local area so that you comply with all regulations to avoid fines and legal issues.



how to start a travel business - register business




Tips for managing your travel business for profitability:


Now that your travel business is up and running, you need to manage it properly to become profitable. Here are some general tips on how to achieve that:



Research your industry


The travel industry is dynamic, with new trends emerging regularly. Therefore, get to know the sector inside out. Understand your competitors, target customers and what kind of financial investment you need. This way, you can tailor your services to meet customer expectations, which can result in them recommending your business to others. 


If you're new to the travel industry, consider gaining experience by working as a travel agent or volunteering at a tourism office. This hands-on experience will give you valuable insights and skills, which you can use to build a network of industry contacts who can be crucial for your company’s success.



Develop a marketing strategy


A marketing strategy helps you reach your target audience, build brand awareness and drive bookings. Focus on the channels where your audience is most active. This includes social media, email and doing partnerships with influencers or travel bloggers. 


Consider launching a travel blog, too, as over a third of people worldwide visit personal travel blogs for ideas. A user-friendly and search engine optimized (SEO) travel website can help showcase your services and attract potential customers. 


Learn more: Check out these travel blog names for some inspiration. 


Once you build your website, create engaging content, such as blog posts, videos, newsletters and promotional offers that resonate with your audience. High-quality content builds trust, showcases your expertise and encourages potential clients to book with you.



Invest in customer service for your travel business


A travel business isn't just about booking flights and hotels for clients—it’s about creating unforgettable experiences from the moment a customer starts planning their trip until they return home. That is what leads to referrals. In fact, 61% of travelers say that recommendations from friends and family are crucial deciding factors when choosing a travel company.


With that in mind, respond to customer inquiries quickly and professionally. Help clients navigate every aspect of their journey, whether it’s dealing with lost luggage or offering travel insurance advice. Be the dependable support they need while traveling, like having a 24/7 concierge service at their disposal. This way, you’ll have a highly satisfied customer base that feels supported and valued throughout their travel experience.



Build partnerships for business operations


To boost the growth of your travel business, think about teaming up with airlines, hotels, tour operators and key players in the industry. These partnerships can unlock exclusive deals that let you offer clients exciting perks like preferential rates, premium accommodations and tailored travel packages, which enhance the value of your services.  


You can also attend networking events and industry gatherings to meet experienced professionals and gain valuable insights. Building these connections and staying on top of the latest trends can position your travel business as the go-to expert for people looking to travel.



Travel businesses to inspire (all built on Wix)


Let’s now look at some examples of successful travel businesses to give you an idea of how to start one.




Travel expert specializing in planning All-inclusive Vacations, Comprehensive Trip Planning, Points and Miles Consultation and Destination Weddings.



How to start a travel business - Wix user example



A full service travel agency with experience in planning "bucket list" vacations and navigating the travel industry.


How to start a travel business - Wix user example



Travel agent focusing on planning tailoring trips to clients needs and interests.


How to start a travel business - Wix user example


Benefits of starting a travel business:


Running a travel business gives you the freedom to be your own boss. You can set your own hours, make decisions that align with your vision and have the flexibility to balance work and personal life.  


In addition, the demand for travel services is consistently high, particularly in areas with a substantial tourist presence. This creates room for multiple revenue streams, from booking commissions and service fees to custom travel packages and partnerships with hotels and tour operators.


Starting a travel business also helps you build a vast network of contacts in the industry. From clients and suppliers to fellow travel professionals, these relationships can lead to collaborations, partnerships and new business opportunities.



Challenges of running a travel business:


Despite its numerous benefits, the travel sector still has its challenges. One issue is that the industry is susceptible to economic conditions. Economic downturns, recessions and fluctuations in currency exchange rates can significantly impact travelers' spending habits and overall demand for travel services.


Moreover, coordinating travel logistics, managing bookings and making sure customers have a seamless experience can be challenging if you lack the necessary skills and tools. Any mismanagement can lead to customer dissatisfaction and reputational damage. However, online booking systems and scheduling software can help you manage these aspects effectively.



How profitable is a travel business?


The profit margins for travel businesses in the U.S. vary widely based on the type of business, target market and business model. Here’s a general breakdown:


  • Online travel agencies (OTAs): These businesses typically have 10% to 20% profit margins.

  • Tour operators: With profit margins around 15% to 30%, tour operators benefit from package deals and markups on activities.

  • Hotels and resorts: Profit margins for these can vary greatly, averaging around 3% to 8%. However, luxury travel properties can achieve much higher margins thanks to their premium services and amenities.

  • Airlines: Profit margins are often slim, around 2% to 5%, due to high operational costs and fuel dependency.

  • Cruise lines: Profit margins can be higher, reaching 10% to 15%, due to their all-inclusive nature and the enticing onboard spending options available to passengers.


Note: These are just a general guide to profit margins, so make sure to research them before starting any type of business.



Looking to start a travel business in a specific state?


Licensing laws around travel can get complicated pretty fast. The good news is that a travel agent license is not required at the federal level. However, things change at the state level. While many states don't demand special licensing, a few have specific requirements like the SOT regulations.


States that require an SOT license include California, Florida, Hawaii and Washington. If your agency operates in or sells to clients in these states, you’ll need to register as a seller of travel.


Other states with regulations worth noting include:



No matter where you're starting your travel business, be sure to keep these tips in mind:


  • Stay updated with local and federal regulations, as laws can change.

  • Get professional liability insurance to protect your business and meet any state-required consumer protections.

  • Consult a legal professional or a travel advisor who knows the law inside out. They can offer specific advice that can help you avoid pitfalls.

  • If you're an independent travel agent, partner with a host agency and use their seller of travel number to reduce expenses and administrative burden.



How to start a travel business FAQ


How much money. doI need to start a travel business?

The amount of money you need to start a travel business can vary widely depending on several factors. These include the scale and scope of your operations, business model and location. For example, a mid-scale travel agency in the U.S. can cost you $44,000 to $155,000 to start. But it may be as little as $10,000 if you want to operate from home.

Is starting a travel business worth it?




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