“Do travel agents even exist anymore?” Stephanie Lee rhetorically asks when describing a service industry that’s been severely disrupted by the Internet over the last decade.
While booking a flight online may be easier than ever, Lee’s 20 years of travel experience combined with some entrepreneurial foresight only meant opportunity in this new era.
Instead of competing against her peers in an increasingly commoditized and cut-throat market, she thought, “…why not better serve them?”
As she witnessed the fragmentation and consolidation happening around the traditional model, Lee started HostAgencyReviews.com as business-to-business content website for independent travel professions seeking to get a start in the biz, or, to align themselves with a new ‘host agency’ for more purchasing power.
“There’s been a lot of consolidation over the years, and the margins are much lower than they once were,” she explains. “Much of the industry has become a work from home type of setup rather than a physical storefront.” The latest report suggests there are around 40,000 travel agents working from home in the US today.
“For one, the travel agent business can be frustrating and difficult for newbies to break into,” she explains. “Second, it was frustrating the way the host agency industry was represented online. It became really hard to tell who is reputable and who is a fly by night,” she says.
Lee began by reaching out to various host agencies, formally interviewing them and performing her own write-ups on the various groups. Over the course of a year, the content grew as did the audience.
“Once I had developed the audience, the user-generated reviews picked up where I left off,” she recalls. It’s grown to over 90 agencies listed in the database, around 650 peer reviews and she’s creating 3-4 articles month to maintain the flow of information. As such, Lee also has contracts with paying advertisers of the site who want to increase their visibility in this domain.
“It’s a nice lifestyle business, doing something I truly enjoy. This niche hasn’t been touched before now…using social media and content to cultivate community,” she says. “There’s a lot of room to expand,” she cheerfully affirms.