Travel PA is a growing home-based travel franchise. Its founder Hamish Kaumaya spoke to workingmums.co.uk about how it was set up and what it offers.
Do you want to work at home and run your own business? The travel industry is one area where homeworking is becoming more common. But what if you have no previous experience in the travel industry?
One travel franchise has set up its own academy to train would-be homeworking travel agents and provides a support network to get them up and running after initial training.
The Travel PA franchise has spun out of award-winning travel operator Sunset Travel.
Its founder and managing director is Hamish Kaumaya who was director of sales and marketing at Sunset Travel from 1999 to 2012 and was responsible for travel agent relationships among other things. A growing number of the agencies Sunset Travel would deal with had home-based agents. In 2012 the business decided to cut its high street overheads and set up its own homeworking travel agency brand to distribute its luxury long-haul holiday packages.
Travel PA started up with 12 members of staff, many of them seasoned professionals who were jumping ship after talk of the merger of Thomas Cook and the Co-op. At first it distributed only Sunset Travel holidays. It now has 75 homeworking agents.
Because of the link with Sunset Travel, its reputation and the relationships it had established with airline companies and other travel companies, it was able to get off the ground quickly. Hamish says the homeworking model combines the best of traditional travel agencies and online travel services.
He adds that homeworkers often have good networks of friends and family and are able to build a unique relationship with their customers, allowing them to compete against the more impersonal internet sites like Expedia. “Our customer loyalty level is high,” says Hamish. “Our agents are trusted and because they work from home they can be available when customers need them. There’s a real personal relationship – they understand their clients’ needs and can tailor a package that fits these – and they are able to get access to the best holiday rates.”
The business has developed a lot since 2012. In the early days it only hired experienced travel agents, but two years ago it set up its own travel academy and became a franchise business. It has since trained up people with no background in the travel industry. “Taking in people from outside the industry has given us a whole new lease of life. We like to think outside the box,” says Hamish.
The type of people he is looking for are those with a strong business sense who are good at selling the business and marketing locally and who are able to grow local networks.
The academy involves 10 days of training on all aspects of the travel industry, Travel PA systems and a specialist focus on cruise travel. There are also online modules and a final catch-up session in the business’ Croydon office. The whole process takes between four and six months. When franchisees start taking calls they have a support network they can draw on. There are open mornings three days a week where they can dial in to get extra help and get access to and ask questions of experienced agents. They also have access to a trainer until they feel confident enough to go it alone. Usually that is around two months, but Hamish says it is dependent on the person. “If they need longer, they will have the support for longer,” he says.
There are follow-up training days in London so agents keep on top of industry changes and can meet suppliers as well as have talks from travel operators such as cruise providers. In addition, there is an annual conference which includes team building exercises and sessions on future developments in the industry. Next year’s is in Mexico.
Other developments over the last few years include a £120K investment in a new online travel system created by Nexus which means agents can work from anywhere. It includes a message board, a database of suppliers, a management system, an online sales system with access to good deals in everything from car hire to insurance, marketing support, a website and much more. “It gives you everything you need to run the business,” says Hamish, “and increases the speed with which we can give clients a quote.”
The company is also planning to do more work on school trips abroad, having recently purchased e3 Tours.
Hamish says that he is looking for franchisees with a clear business plan. He cites one franchisee who came through workingmums.co.uk who had a wedding ring business. She already had a customer base and wanted to link weddings with honeymoons to offer a more complete package to her clients.
The franchise costs just under £6K, but this can be paid in installments until the training period is over. Hamish says it is very rare for someone not to make that money back in the first year. Those who have a ready client base will get off to a faster start and returns will also depend on how much time people are putting into the business. Some people do it as a side hustle, for instance. Travel PA does not dictate how many hours franchisees should spend on the business. “It is totally flexible. People can be as successful as they want to be,” says Hamish.
He adds that top sellers make around £100K a year, but the average is £30K-£35K a year. Those who do it part time as a side hustle make around £10K-£20K a year. Hamish says many potential franchisees who get in touch are looking for something outside the standard 9-5, which can fit around their family lives.
Travel PA plans to grow the franchise to 3-400 franchisees over the next years. That will give it more buying power to get better rates from the bigger suppliers.
Asked about the potential impact of Brexit, he says that Travel PA has continued to grow in the last three years unlike some of the bigger tour operators. “Our flexibility has allowed us to keep growing,” he says.
*To find out more about Travel PA, click here. Picture credit: Travel PA.