Are you interested in learning about how to start a travel agency? Looking for detailed information about ways to get your startup off the ground?

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We’ve created a helpful 5-step how-to guide that should point you in the right direction, loaded with great tips and resources. Consider this piece a valuable tool in your quest for success in the travel agency industry.

5 Steps to Thrive in the Travel Industry

    1. Step 1: Invest Time in Heavy Research
    2. Step 2: Pick a Niche
    3. Step 3: Assemble a Business Plan
    4. Step 4: Join a Trade Association 
    5. Step 5: Find the Right Payment Processor

Step 1: Invest Time in Heavy Research

men and women gathered around the table doing research

Sometimes, collaboration is the best way to conduct research.

To build any successful business, your first step should always be to dive into some substantial research. Below are a few areas we suggest focusing on as you get started.

The state of the travel agency industry

What does the travel agency industry look like these days? First of all, it’s very saturated. In addition, the market is dominated by two major players, Expedia and Priceline — both Online Travel Agencies, or OTAs — who together account for the vast majority of sales worldwide.

But that saturated market is also growing at a strong, steady pace. According to Deloitte’s 2018 travel and hospitality industry outlook, the total U.S. travel market recorded a record-high $353 billion in revenue in 2017 — and that revenue was projected to hit $370 billion by the end of 2018.

So, what does that mean? It means that despite the market saturation, there are still opportunities to enter the fray and succeed as an upstart travel agency.

Here are a few great places to kick off your industry research:

Challenges facing travel agencies

Here are a few of the challenges you’re up against when starting a travel agency business:

  1. Market saturation. It’s not impossible to succeed in the saturated travel agency market, it’s just a challenge that requires careful planning and a unique approach. Skip to Step 2 for a great way to hold your own.
  2. Chargebacks. When it comes to traveling, people tend to cancel and/or change their plans a lot. That’s just the nature of the industry. Unfortunately, it often results in disputed/reversed charges, which negatively impacts your business.
  3. Payment processing. Due to reasons including chargebacks as described above, banks and other traditional financial institutions don’t usually do business with travel agencies. We’ll cover this more in Step 5 below.

Travel agency rules and regulations

In the U.S., there aren’t any federal regulations that focus specifically on the travel agency industry.

However, there are federal consumer protection laws and truth-in-advertising regulations, among others, that you’ll need to observe. You can learn a lot about how to comply, and how to generally operate a compliant, honest business, by checking out the Federal Trade Commission’s page for consumers in the travel market.

State and local regulations do exist, and they vary widely from place to place. For instance, there are five U.S. states that impose so-called “seller of travel” laws that are extraterritorial — meaning they apply to out-of-state businesses, not just businesses located within state borders. Part of your research will involve making sure you comply with such regulations.

The U.S. Small Business Administration has a useful collection of resources and guides for small business owners who are just getting started, including a page dedicated to helping you stay legally compliant. It’s also a good idea to work with an attorney, who can offer the professional knowledge you need to keep your business on the right side of the law.

Step 2: Pick a Niche

Woman walking down the middle of a road in a very green, jungle-like environment

Sometimes the best trips take you off the beaten path.

Entering the travel agency market as a startup or small business requires careful planning and deliberate audience targeting. To stand out, you’ll want to find your own niche. Here are some ideas for travel agency niches:

  1. Luxury destinations. You’re probably familiar with a few of these – The Bahamas, Las Vegas, Beverly Hills, etc. Pick a place and become an expert on all things travel in that location.
  2. Vacation and holiday packages. These can be similar in setup to luxury deals, but the focus isn’t necessarily on luxury. Agents that specialize in vacation and holiday packages typically work out all the details, from flights and hotels to rental cars, dining, excursions, and more.
  3. Specific destinations. Local, regional, domestic, international, etc.
  4. Specific travel types. Flights, hotels, car rentals, cruises, etc.

Naturally, you’ll want to build an online presence that embraces your niche. If you need a jumpstart here, check out these great tips for building your brand online.

Step 3: Assemble a Business Plan

Hand writing down bullets in a notebook

Writing notes by hand instead of typing them can help you remember them.

A solid business plan is essential for succeeding as a travel agent. The more work you put into planning your business, the better your chances are for success. Investors will also be more likely to smile upon you if you have an attractive, well-thought-out plan in place.

The SBA has a great article about business plans, plus an informative tool for writing your own plan. They even offer free business counseling for those who want to go the extra mile. Or you can checkout a business plan template and see what you can extract from that (there are plenty across the internet).

If you opt to do business with a host travel agency, your business planning might be a much simpler process.

Step 4: Join a Trade Association

man in a suit looking at a laptop with a pie chart on it, outdoors

It’s often better to work with others than to operate as a lone wolf.

Want to get a step up in the travel agency industry? Join a trade association. Here’s what a trade association membership can land you:

  1. Exposure. Associations typically have large networks of agencies and clients, and adding your name to the list will quickly increase the number of eyes on your service.
  2. Resources. Any association worth its membership fee should provide all kinds of educational resources, training, networking, and other opportunities for professional growth and advancement.
  3. Improved brand image. Being part of an association makes you look better to potential customers. It’s a great way to boost your brand image.

Here are a few associations you can check out if you’re based in the U.S.:

Step 5: Find the Right Payment Processor

man swiping a blue credit card on a pos terminal

Credit cards are an integral part of running a travel agency.

The final step for starting a travel agency is finding a payment processor you can count on. Since travel agencies are high risk merchants, you’ll most likely have to connect with a processor that specializes in high risk accounts.

Perhaps you’ve applied before, and gone through all the paperwork — only to be rejected?

Motile has payment processing solutions for 95.7% of high risk merchants, so reach out to us and we’ll get your sorted.

To improve your chances of succeeding, check out these tips for opening your merchant account, or get started with your application now!


Thanks for reading our guide – we hope that you’ve found what you’re looking for, and that you now have a better idea about how to start a travel agency.

Please let us know if we can assist you with your payment processing needs, and feel free to leave comments below. We’re happy to assist you.

About the Author

Geoff Scott is a Payments Consultant for Motile LLC, where he strives to connect users across the internet with processing solutions for their small businesses. He also loves Thai food, craft beer, and an exhilarating game of squash (when he's off the clock, of course).