how to build a travel business

What You Need to Know About Starting a Travel Business

A Review of Crush It! by Gary Vaynerchuk

In celebration of National Love Reading Month, the next 5 posts will each feature one of my top five non-fiction books that have had the biggest impact on my career. Maybe you’ll find something on this list that will change your life too. In no particular order…I hate having to choose so I’m going to say they are all tied for the number one spot.

First, on the list – Crush it! By Gary Vaynerchuk

I had settled in for my flight – neck pillow in place, snacks at the ready, electronic devices in close reach. I was heading to Thailand on a business trip but while there, I had planned on using my spare time to work on my side hustle. 

It was January 2018. Only a few months prior, I had made the decision to make a change in my life. Maybe it was a mid-life crisis sort of thing. I just knew that I had reached my expiration date when it came to working for other people. We probably all have times in our career where we think…I don’t need this bullshit. There has got to be something else. It’s normal. But after careful reflection, most of us will give our heads a shake, realize how good we have it, or we just don’t have the energy to take that seedling of an idea and root it in the ground. We go back to whatever we were doing or thinking just minutes before. But for me…I was ready for a change. 

My very first side hustle idea that took shape was to create an online souvenir emporium. I love shopping in world markets. I considered myself an above-average haggler and I THOUGHT, what I could do was travel the world, buy goods and then sell them in my online shop and over Instagram. 

But somewhere over the Pacific, at about 30,000 feet in the air, Gary Vaynerchuk changed my mind. I’d heard about Gary through an entrepreneurial podcast I’d been listening to called Entrepreneur On Fire by John Lee Dumas. At first listen, Gary can seem a bit abrasive. He’s got this brash and unplugged tough New Yorker way about him, almost bordering on arrogant. It’s a personality type that I tend to gravitate away from under normal conditions but Gary kept popping up on my radar. Enough so that I thought…let me grab this book for the flight.

I’ve long since joined the Gary Vee fangirl club – yeah, that’s how you refer to him when you are in da club. I’ve read most of his books, and I went through a period when I’d listen to his podcasts back to back while I navigated traffic en route to work. I’ve come to learn that he’s incredibly humble and truly inspiring – especially for his target market who I believe to be millennial men. 

Crush It! was the first book in his series and by the time I read it, his follow-up bestseller, Crushing It, was just about to come off the printing press. It’s also a fab book but it was really the OG that had a magical course correction role in my life. 

I want to share my 10 key takeaways from that book with you. 

1. Live Your Passion

It doesn’t get much pithier than someone telling you to “Live your Passion.” I’m pretty sure we’ve all seen the platitude wrapped up inside a fortune cookie at some point. For me, and I suspect you if you are reading this, our passion is travel. I’ve never once truly thought about anything but having a career selling travel. 

But I always wanted to be an entrepreneur. And I wanted a change.  So I’d thought that selling souvenirs I’d procured in markets around the world was a great idea.

Until I started reading Chapter one. Gary says you’ll know it’s your passion if you could write 52 articles on the topic. Well, ummm? 😳  52 articles on hand-embroidered pillowcases from Chiang Mai? Maybe I needed to rethink things.

Because yeah, if you really want a viable business idea, you are going to have to create content around that idea and a hell of a lot of it. At least 52 long-form pieces of content. That’s step one.

A long-form piece of content is exactly what it sounds like. So if you decide to make expedition cruising your travel niche…you’ll need to ask yourself, could you create at least 52 articles surrounding that topic? I’m currently sitting at 9(6)7 posts.

how to build a travel business

2. Choose your weapon

Step two, choose your weapon – or rather, your delivery method. 

You don’t have to be a blogger. Some people think blogging is dead. It’s not. But if you aren’t a great writer, you could do a podcast. You could do a video blog (vlog). Choose whichever method in which you feel the most comfortable, and start.

Downside to the book, at the time of writing, Insta wasn’t a thing. Twitter had just emerged on the scene and people were struggling with what was a tweet or a twit or a chirp….”ahhhhh, those silly kids”…was the comment coming out of many CEO mouths. And Facebook was still very much in its infancy and on the verge of taking off to break through the stratosphere. 

And even though many of Gary’s recommendations back in 2009 have since become defunct, I don’t hold it against him. Our tech world is innovating rapidly. By the time I hit publish on this blog, there is a good chance that somewhere, there is a young kid imagining an online platform that makes coffee simply by thinking it into existence.

Whether it’s Viddler, Ping, Ustream or whatever platform has long since gone the way of the Polaroid camera, the advice Gary gives is still solid.

Try new platforms as soon as they come out. Take a moment to invest in them to see if they fit your style. While it’s true, you want to spend the most of your energy where your people are, and your people aren’t likely to be on the latest craze YET…the benefit of jumping on early is the ability to take advantage of stratospheric growth awarded to new platform users. 

Just look at Tik Tok. I know people with accounts on Tik Tok who started with 1 follower at the beginning of the pandemic and now have over 2.4 M followers. Imagine…some woman, my age, dancing around her kitchen to old school tunes has 2.4 M followers. Oh, how I wish I enjoyed video.

3. Just start

Even if you haven’t yet decided to leave your current travel job, start talking about your travel niche now. I was posting on travel in Asia well before I settled on being a business and life coach. That doesn’t mean that all that posting went to waste. Not at all. Many of my early followers ended up being travel advisors and ultimately became clients of mine well before I ever decided the direction my business would take.

how to build a travel business

Economic downturns present incredible opportunities.

And if you can make it during bad times, you’ll be a dragon slayer in good times.

4. Don’t stress over trends and followers

Just because everybody has shifted over to the hottest and latest trend of the day, it’s more important that you are where your audience is. If your client loves a good dance routine on Tik Tok..then that’s where you should be. But if your client is still holding onto Facebook for dear life, even if you hate the platform, you need to be where their attention is.

Gary also reminds his readers that the number of followers means shit. It’s just a vanity metric. It is far better to have 200 highly engaged followers than 10,000 who barely give you a like. 

5. Build a personal brand

Gary is all about building a personal brand – if you think it’s something to scoff at, know that your personal brand is the one thing you carry with you throughout your lifetime. 

He recommends going out and buying the domain of your name if you can. Of course, it is 2022 now and pretty much every permeation of Jane Doe has been taken. I got lucky – maybe you will too.

If you are wondering if you should brand under a clever travel name like “Adventures Around the World” vs Travel with Mary – he says go with the latter unless you are already looking to build an exit strategy and sell your business and walk away from it.

6. Nobody pays top dollar for vanilla

As of Nov 9, 2021, there were 73,249 travel agency businesses in the US alone. 

And that’s just businesses and doesn’t account for all the independent travel contractors out there. With those kinds of numbers, it’s easy to fade into the panelling. 

Be a scoop of Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough with a Splash of Caramel Bourbon. 

What if, unlike every other travel advisor out there who talks about how this property was gorgeous and the sands were pristine and the ocean was flawless…you speak your mind. You tell your truth, you choose a side and don’t care about turning some people off.  

Your true fans are going to appreciate your candour. Of course, there will always be people who don’t like your style but the ones who do…They’ll be your raving fans. Selling won’t be nearly as big of a chore because these clients will have already decided to trust you. 

Gary got his start selling wine online for his family’s booze store business. He’d tell his loyal listeners which ones were worth their coin and which tasted like Friday night socks. He was polarizing and people ate it up (or rather drank it up).

7. Word of mouth advertising

Gary is a social media guru.  He says, in days gone by if you made a client happy, they would tell everyone at their next dinner party and that would be great. A dinner party of 6 or 8 guests…Nice. 

But today…a happy client just returning from a baller trip to Bora Bora will tell all their close friends but also post on their social media feed and tell everyone inside their Facebook groups. Our circles of influence have exploded. 

Now, more than ever, It pays to offer great service.

But be forewarned..the coin has two sides. Offer shitty service, and you’ll have equally pissed off more people than you could ever imagine.

This is why I am a firm believer in charging service fees that make booking travel worth your while. If you charge for the value of looking after everything for your client, it is your JOB to go above and beyond for them. It is your JOB to sit on hold with the airline and secure their next flight if their flight gets cancelled.

The mistake I see so many agents make is dealing with volume over quality. They charge little to no service fees thinking…this way, I can get more clients but what happens is..they get more clients but now they can’t service them properly AND they aren’t making enough money to make it viable. Get what I mean. Hard to sit on a call with Air Canada to do a flight change when all you are getting is the commission on the cruise they booked. Even if you do it out of the kindness of your heart, it’s not a sustainable business. That’s where most travel agents get stuck.

Stop selling your services short.

8. Hustle your guts out

Building your business is going to take a lot of hard work. And Gary spews this idea that as a budding entrepreneur you have to be everywhere…all the time. And he’s taken a lot of slack for that since “Crush It” first came out in 2009. 
Since then, he’s softened his approach and while he hasn’t quite fully backed down from his hustle approach, he admits that you still have to strike up a work/life balance but you’ve got to be honest with yourself. Building any kind of successful business is going to be hard work and lots of it. But you get to decide the timeline.

how to build a travel business

9. Create community

While creating content is an important piece…it’s not the most important piece. The most important piece to building any business is creating community around your content.

Get out, meet people and tell them what you do. So many travel advisors take for granted that everybody knows what they stop talking about it. 

We THINK people know everything about us but the truth is, most people are so self-absorbed (and I don’t mean that in a bad way) but they have their own shit they are taking care of. It’s not that they don’t care. They just have figuratively no more room in their brains to keep what you are doing filed away too.

It never hurts to remind people that you are a travel advisor. 

Get out and meet people. Don’t hide behind your computer and get lost in creating content thinking that’s what’s going to get you bookings. Making connections is what is going to lead to making bookings.

how to build a travel business

But we were just in the middle of a pandemic!

 Yeah, so? Even though Crush It! predates the Pandemic of 2020-2022, I’m confident that Gary would have coached to get online and into Facebook groups and build your community there. There are so many travel groups to choose from. Just pick a few and go all in.

10. Be patient

Patience isn’t just a virtue; It’s a necessity.

There are going to be times when you are going to compare your success to that of other travel advisors. It almost always looks like everyone else is further along than us. But don’t compare their year five to your year one. This shit takes time so just accept that truth and move through it. 

Maybe it means that you continue to work your 9 to 5 for a year or two longer before you can cut out on your own. But just don’t fall into the trap of thinking that it was easier for others.  Every travel advisor starts with one follower and then one client and builds from there. It will be the same for you.

Reading Crush It back in 2018, had a massive impact on building Digital Travel Academy and as much as I’ve tried to share my top lessons from the book, in respect to time, I had to edit a tonne out of this article. 

Gary’s gone on to write five more books specifically on growing your business. I strongly urge you to check him out. If your initial thought is…ew…he’s so over the top. Don’t be afraid to question that thought. I think it’s worth moving through it and getting to the gold laying waiting on the other side.

If you missed any of the other books in this series dedicated to the month of March, which is also National I Love Reading Month. Here are my recommended reads for books that changed my life:

Week One: Crush It by Gary Vaynerchuk

Week Two: Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

Week Three: Daring Greatly by Brene Brown

Week Four: The Compound Effect by Darren Hardy

Week Five: The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks.


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