Morgan Pesce, a full-time social media specialist and travel and lifestyle blogger in Rhode Island, reached out to Fora Travel in March to become a part-time travel advisor. After a video call and learning about the startup travel agency’s support resources, Pesce booked four trips in April for friends, other people in her network, and herself.
Her commission checks came a few weeks after the trips.
“It was their mission that spoke to me,” said Pesce, 37, referring to Fora Travel, adding that she has contacted travel agencies before but didn’t like “their big, cookie-cutter approach ”, filled with Marriott stays and cruises.
Fora Travel’s mission is to reinvent the travel agency and the role of travel agents, offering avid travelers side hustles as travel advisors and benefits for their trips, as well as paid commission checks, split with very modest training. before they start booking trips. Fora Travel has $18.5 million in venture funding — 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 period of time.
Skift has already written a bit about Fora Travel, which was founded last year, but we wanted to learn more about its business model, especially because in the past there have been several multi-level marketing schemes where companies offer people who they know nothing about travel. business benefits for their trips and fees for getting their friends to sign up — and so on.
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 will revolve around hotel commissions and travel, but will eventually charge a membership fee to travel advisors and currently offers a $200 referral. when advisers register travel agents and they make bookings. 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 best advisors come with a referral,” said Frank, who was speaking from the Virtuozo conference in Las Vegas a few weeks ago. “We don’t want to close that channel and turn it off. But overall, we’re not looking to become some form of multi-level marketing-driven company. We’re really focused on our demand-driven, travel-driven revenue model.”
Veteran travel advisors would be amazed by newbies just diving into the job. These longtime professionals are adept at a large number of fare classes, global distribution desktop scripts, service charges and taxes, airline debit memos, and rescuing runaway and irate customers in far-flung airports, and many have taken nine three-month courses and pledged to adhere to a 12-point code of ethics on their way to receiving a verified travel advisor certificate from the American Association of Travel Counselors. Travel, for example.
Business in a box?
Fora Travel is looking to disrupt all of this with simple training and offering travel advisor recruits a ‘business in a box’.
Fora Travel’s Frank said the agency is “unique” in not charging advisers a fee to join, but that will change. “The reason is that we really wanted to get our training, our operational onboarding and the overall business into a box, the product experience that we’re giving our advisors, before we start paying them money for to be part of it,” Frank. said. “But infrastructure, as you know, is expensive to run. We’re going to have to pay some sort of advisor fee.”
Don’t book flights
But how would advisors just booking their first trips handle all the flight cancellations, lost luggage and all the hassles that have marred the travel experience for travelers around the world in recent months?
This one seems easy: Don’t book flights.
“I think the more flights you do, the more you wake up at 2 a.m., which is one of the reasons we try not to focus so much on the flights,” Frank said. “I think if you’re focusing on ground and hotel driven travel, it’s much more convenient to be able to do that while also supporting other jobs, independent gigs or whatever.”
Pesce, the Fora Travel consultant who started her side hustle in April, booked three trips that month to Central America — including her trip to Guatemala — and one to the Florida Keys.
Pesce said she doesn’t usually book flights — although Flora Travel agents can do so through agency partners — and she can give clients recommendations.
The new Fora Travel consultant said she learned about the agency through her Instagram posts and wouldn’t be interested “if you have to pay to work for them.”
Fora Travel does not yet have its own reservations system, so its agents mostly book directly on hotel websites, although Frank said the agency is building a reservations 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 has mostly booked their accommodation and as a Fora Travel consultant, she has taken them and herself up for her own travel benefits such as early check-in and late check-out, bottle of wine upon arrival and a $200 resort credit.
Fora Travel, which is a host agency that enables home-based independent contractors to sign up as agents, says “it’s not uncommon for hard-working travel agents to earn six-figure incomes.” It also notes that 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 receive the benefits that Virtuoso can wrangle from partners. Fora Travel has about 500 travel advisors registered since it began recruiting earlier this year, has about 200 active and has a waiting list to sign up, the company said.
Pesce said Fora Travel has a database she can access when she has questions, training has been ongoing and she can interact online with a “huge” community of more experienced advisors.
“I’ve been lucky so far that there haven’t been any problems,” Pesce said.
Where will this side hustle go?
She’s holding down her full-time job as a social media consultant for now, while working maybe a dozen hours a week, depending on how many trips she’s taken, as a travel advisor. Pesce said she would consider becoming a full-time travel consultant if she could build her client list.
“Traveling is my favorite thing in the world and helping other people do it is great,” Pesce said.
A spokesman for the American Association of Travel Advisors said the group has seen renewed interest in the travel advisor profession.
“However, determining the success or sustainability of any business model or industry innovation is not within ASTA’s remit,” the spokesperson said. “Knowledge and expertise of a vast and complex travel ecosystem are key elements of a successful travel advisor and their agency business.”
While not commenting specifically on Fora Travel and its advisors, a spokesman for the American Association of Travel Advisors appeared to be expressing caution about the venture: “Claiming expertise not possessed or promising service not delivered only damages the industry’s reputation. and endangers trust. that travel advisors have earned through decades of professional service to their clients.”
Frank of Fora Travel said the agency would issue certificates to its advisors.
It will be up to Pesce and the growing number of Fora Travel advisors to determine how much that certification is worth.