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Sage One news, tips and advice for start-ups and small businesses.

Setting up a small travel agency – a guide to getting on the right track

Travel agencies have always been prized for their expert knowledge, keen organisational skills and passion for customer service.

In the age of comparison websites and cheap flights, with customers encouraged to research and book themselves, the way modern travel agencies set themselves apart is by offering a first-class service.

This means tailoring holidays for people who want a trip of a lifetime, or specialising in business travel, booking flights, hotels, transfers and events for large organisations’ teams and clients.

Whether you want to attract business or leisure clients, or both, you’ll need to get off on the right track so your business starts as it means to go on.

A licence to sell

To sell overseas travel you need to apply for a licence with the Commission for Aviation Regulation.

In order to operate under this licence you will need to follow their guidelines for selling travel, administering bonding schemes and processing refunds and claims.

Picking the sunniest spot

Being a travel agent doesn’t necessarily mean you need premises on a busy high street. You may decide that setting up online is better for you. Weigh up the kinds of clients you will be able to work with, and what works best for you.

For example, if you work with business clients they may want you to come and see them to plan their itinerary. Or if you offer bespoke, luxury honeymoon packages your customers may appreciate the personal touch of someone visiting them in their home.

If you want customers to be able to book holidays simply and quickly, you may want to invest more in your website instead of a shop space. In most instances, especially if you have staff, you will need a location for office space.

For any location, office or high street shop, you should consider transport links, business rates and proximity to clients as well as costs of rent or purchase.

Happy team, happy customers

Typically small travel agencies employ around 4-10 people offering services to their customers. When recruiting travel agents you should look for people who are well-travelled themselves, have excellent sales skills, and confidence in communicating with clients.  Travel and tourism diplomas or degrees are useful qualifications to have – alongside strong numeracy and literacy skills – as they will be preparing quotes and taking deposits.

Once you have hired your team it is important to manage your staff well, as you won’t have an in-house HR manager to call on. Make sure you have employment contract templates set up and processes for paying salaries and conducting staff reviews. Communication is important when your business centres on people; if they are happy then this will mean they’ll offer your customers a great experience.

Work on your supplier relationships

Where will you find the best deals for your customers? Being a travel agent relies upon having contacts that mean you can secure deals that your customers can’t by themselves. Develop good relationships with airlines, hotels and other holiday companies to offer the best packages. This might be so you can offer a price advantage but can also mean you can secure little extras to make a customer’s holiday unique.

The Irish Travel Agents Association and Travel Media are good news sources and they run networking events and awards for travel agents.

Make sure your day-to-day operations run smoothly

This means setting up processes that allow you to help customers, take payments quickly and easily, and deal with enquiries:

Structure your customer service: What happens from the first time a customer makes an enquiry to when they make a deposit? Set clear guidelines for yourself and your staff so they know how to advise customers, make bookings and collect payments. Having a handbook can help save time and means staff always have something to refer to.

Managing payments: Generally your customers will secure their booking with a deposit and then pay the final balance closer to their trip.
The processes you have set previously will show you when to chase up the final balance, and how staff should calculate deposits and the final quote.
You should also think about how your customers will pay – will you require a card machine? Will they prefer to pay by bank transfer or cash? How will you manage cash payments?

Administration: Like any other business there are small admin tasks to do each day, week and month. Note these down before you start so you’ll be able to keep on top of them and have an idea of who will do these. They’ll include things like keeping the stationery cupboard stocked, ensuring the phone gets answered and making sure there is enough milk for tea.

IT and communications: How will you handle things like staff computers, emails, marketing systems and telephones? It is often useful to take the advice of an IT consultant or the Local Enterprise Office to help get your communications set up properly.

Managing expenses: Put in place a way to record expenses quickly and easily, either by filing receipts somewhere secure to input later, or having a record as you go process using your accounting software.

Best practice accounting for travel agencies

You’ll need to manage your income and expenses whilst keeping on track with things like payroll and overdue payments too. All of these can be managed via online accounting software like Sage One.

Managing customer bookings and payments

Use your online accounting software to record income from customer deposits, balancing payments as well as payments made in full. You can quote and invoice through Sage One so the entire process is linked up, saving you lots of data entry.

Sage One also links to your bank account, so you don’t need to check in two places. Income records appear automatically in Sage so you can match them to invoices. You can also easily to see if payments are overdue with the reporting feature, making chasing quicker.

Recording expenses

As mentioned before it is useful to have an idea of your common expenses, so you are mindful to record them as they are spent. Sage One allows you to batch enter expenses and set up recurring expense payments for items like rent, phone bills and subscriptions.

Staff payroll

You can quickly connect Sage One to Sage Payroll in order to manage every part of the payroll process. Sage Payroll allows you to enter all the details for your staff and makes an accurate calculation of their salary payment. No sums required, and once a staff member is set up you don’t need to repeat the process for each payroll.

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