Morgan Pesce, a full-time social media specialist and Rhode Island travel and lifestyle blogger, approached Fora Travel in March to become a part-time travel consultant. After an onboarding video call and learning about the startup travel agency’s support resources, Pesce booked four trips in April for friends, others in her network, and herself.
His commission checks arrived a few weeks after the trips.
“It was their mission that spoke to me,” said Pesce, 37, referring to Fora Travel, adding that she had contacted travel agencies before but did not like their “big box, cookie-cutter approach,” filled with Marriott vacations and cruises.
Fora Travel’s mission is to reinvent the travel agency and the role of travel agents, providing passionate travelers with side businesses as travel advisors and perks for their travels, and pay-as-you-go commission checks. flew with very modest training before they started booking trips. Fora Travel has $18.5 million in venture capital – something you don’t see very often with travel agencies – and sees no reason why it can’t add 100,000 travel advisors to its ranks. in a relatively short time.
Skift has already written a bit about Fora Travel, which was founded last year, but we wanted to know more about its business model, especially since there have been several multi-level marketing programs in the past where companies offer people who don’t know anything about travel business perks for their own trips and fees when they entice their friends to sign up, etc.
Hotel commissions and membership fees
Evan Frank, former CEO and co-founder of Onefinestay and co-founder of Fora Travel, said Skift Fora Travel’s business model would revolve around commissions and hotel travel, but it would eventually charge a fee. travel advisor membership and currently offers a $200 referral. when advisors engage travel agents and make reservations. Frank co-founded Fora Travel with Henley Vasquez, former CEO and co-founder of Passported, and Jake Peters, former CEO of PayPerks.
“By the way, our top advisors come by referral,” said Frank, who was speaking at the Virtuoso conference in Las Vegas a few weeks ago. “We don’t want to cut that channel and turn it off. But overall, we’re not looking to become some sort of multi-level marketing-focused company. We’re really focused on having our revenue model driven by demand, by travel. »
Veteran travel advisors would be appalled if newbies just jumped into the job. These long-time professionals are well-versed in countless fare classes, global distribution desk scripts, service charges and taxes, gnarly airline debit memos, and rescuing bewildered and irate customers from faraway airports. , and many have taken a nine-month course and pledged to abide by a 12-point code of ethics on their way to earning travel advisor certification verified by the American Society of Travel Advisors. , for example.
Business in a box?
Fora Travel seeks to disrupt all of that with streamlined training and offering travel advisors a “business ready to go”.
Frank from Fora Travel said the agency is “unique” in that it currently does not charge advisors membership fees, but that will change. “The reason for that is that we really wanted to flatten out our training, our operational onboarding and all of the business in a box, the product experience that we provide to our advisors, before we start charging them money to be part of it,” Frank said. “But infrastructure, as you know, is expensive to operate. We’re going to have to charge some sort of fee to advisors.
Do not book flights
But how would advisors barely booking their first trips handle all the flight cancellations, lost luggage and all the inconvenience that has tarnished the travel experience of travelers around the world in recent months?
It’s apparently easy: don’t book flights.
“I think the more flights you fly, the more you get woken up at 2 a.m., which is one of the reasons we try not to focus too much on flights,” Frank said. “I think if you’re focusing on land and hotel travel, it’s much more compatible to be able to do that while supporting other jobs, freelance gigs or whatever.”
Pesce, the Fora Travel adviser who began her stampede in April, booked three trips that month to Central America — including her own trip to Guatemala — and one to the Florida Keys.
Pesce said she does not usually book flights – although Flora Travel agents can do so through the agency’s partners – and can give recommendations to customers.
The new Fora Travel adviser said she heard about the agency through her Instagram posts and would not be interested “if you have to pay to work for them”.
Fora Travel does not yet have its own reservation system, so its agents mostly book directly through hotel websites, although Frank said the agency is building a reservation system powered by a global distribution system.
Pesce said she has consulted with customers over video calls, direct messages and email to find out their preferences. She mainly booked their accommodation, and as a Fora Travel advisor, she has them and herself for her own travel benefits such as early check-in and late check-out, bottles of wine on arrival and a $200 resort credit, for example.
Fora Travel, which is a host agency for independent home-based entrepreneurs to sign up as agents, says it’s “not uncommon for hard-working travel agents to earn six-figure incomes.” It also says it can offer travel agents and their customers “upgrades and benefits at nearly 4,000 hotels,” including Four Seasons and Design Hotels.
As a member of the Virtuoso group of agencies, Fora Travel agents can also get the benefits that Virtuoso can get from partners. Fora Travel has about 500 registered travel advisers since it began recruiting earlier this year, about 200 active and a waiting list to sign up, the company said.
Pesce said Fora Travel has a database she can access when she has questions, training is ongoing, and she can interact with a “large” community of more experienced advisers online.
“I’ve been lucky so far that there haven’t been any problems,” Pesce said.
Where will this Side Hustle go?
She’s keeping her full-time job as a social media consultant for now while working maybe a dozen hours a week, depending on how much travel she has to do, as a travel consultant. . Pesce said she would consider becoming a full-time travel consultant if she could build her client list.
“Travel is my favorite thing in the world and helping others do it is amazing,” Pesce said.
A spokesperson for the American Society of Travel Advisors said the group has seen renewed interest in the travel advisory profession.
“However, determining the success or viability of a business model or industry innovation is beyond ASTA’s purview,” the spokesperson said. “Knowledge and expertise of a large and complex travel ecosystem are key elements of a successful travel advisor and agency business.”
Without commenting specifically on Fora Travel and its advisors, the spokesperson for the American Society of Travel Advisors appeared to express caution about the business: which travel advisors have earned through decades of professional service to their clients. . »
Frank from Fora Travel said the agency would issue certificates to its advisers.
It will be up to Pesce and the growing number of Fora Travel advisors to determine the value of this certification.