‘Influx’ of agents transitioning to independent contractor model

An increasing number of luxury travel agents are transitioning to an independent contractor (IC) model, according to senior executives at Virtuoso and Global Travel Collection UK. 

Independent contractors are agents that partner with ‘host’ agencies to harness support and resources such as systems, training and partnerships while retaining their own brand and business operations.

Speaking at Aspire’s Leaders of Luxury conference, Francesca Mendola, vice-president of Global Travel Collection UK – which has a network of independent travel advisors as well as luxury agency brands such as Colletts Travel – and Karen Joyce, UK and Ireland general manager at luxury travel network Virtuoso, agreed they had seen a rise in UK agents using the model in the luxury travel sector.

“Certainly in the last couple of years, even our existing member base that may have been more traditional travel agents are taking on ICs,” said Joyce. 

“It had been very much a US-type of business in the past but there's various reasons for [it becoming more popular in the UK] - I think obviously Covid introduced that need for flexibility a little bit more and in the long term it can be seen that the cost base is lower for businesses as well. 

“But there is also an opportunity to bring in people from different industries that may already have an existing client base, so we've seen that in some areas they may be coming from the banking industry and bringing their banking friends and clients into their client base as well. It's definitely something we're seeing a switch to.”

Mendola said GTC, a US-based company that has been operating in the UK for 15 years, had seen “a real influx over the past couple years of other agencies moving into this model”.

She said: “It's a very lucrative model as a host agency. But then equally, there's agents who maybe during the pandemic unfortunately were made redundant by the companies they worked for, and had really revisited what their values were and whether there was an opportunity for them to go out on their own.”

She added: “The IC model has become more popular in the UK and I think that's being driven by people wanting to earn more money in the industry. They know how lucrative it can be when you're making commissions for another company so that’s definitely increased.”

Mendola said GTC had also seen a rise of so-called “progressive advisors” who “have no GDS experience but have an amazing black book of business”.

She said: “I think the [wider] travel industry is seeing a shift where we're thinking about how we can support this progressive advisor that maybe has an amazing black book but doesn't [know the intricacies of the sector], so that's something the industry is seeing as well.”

She added: “It's really important as an independent advisor to make sure you're connected to agencies that provide infrastructure, support and growth because it is [a different way of working]. 

“We're now seeing advisors going from maybe being an employee for many years to a business owner and it can be overwhelming and isolating if you're not in a regular office environment, so making sure that you're connected to like-minded individuals is something that's really important in the independent advisor space.”

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