Skift Take

It's too soon to tell whether the pandemic will drive people back into the arms of human beings to book their holidays, but Evan Frank thinks he's got the right ingredients to reboot the classic travel agent model.

Evan Frank has had an epiphany: travel advisors sell holidays.

The founder of high-end homesharing company Onefinestay is so convinced they’re the future, he’s launching a new business called Fora, a platform with branding, marketing, communications and commission tracking tools.

It marks his return to travel, after selling Onefinestay to Accor for $168 million in 2014. Since then he’s launched a niche educational/tour guide business, and has been investing in startups, but now he spots an opportunity: to fill a gap that’s been left by commission-hungry online travel agencies.

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Frank has an eye for spotting trends. In 2010 he launched Onefinestay to capitalize on the onset of the homesharing trend, which began with Airbnb just two years earlier. When he launched it, he said he noted how the cost of distribution was high, paying online travel agencies about 25 percent.

“Right around the same time, travel agents also started contacting us, proactively, because they’d heard great things about Onefinestay from their clients,” he wrote on LinkedIn on Monday. “They wanted to know: would we pay commissions? ‘How much?’ we asked. ’10 percent’ was the most common reply. ‘Um…sure?’”

He said the contrast to the online agencies was stark. He now wants Fora to be a “new equation in travel for the modern era, leveraging technology and new ways of thinking … We believe there’s never been a better time to build a meaningful, lasting enterprise in travel — and one that realigns travel providers, travel advisors and entrepreneurs, and travelers themselves.”

Influencers and Content Creators Welcome?

The pandemic timing works, as he’ll be able to tap into the growing numbers of consultants working from home. To be fair, many travel advisors have long worked remotely, with businesses like Travel Counsellors in particular basing their model on this. But there will also have been many consultants working for larger agencies who lost their jobs during the pandemic, meaning recruitment shouldn’t be too hard.

Then there’s the fact that complex travel rules and regulations have nudged many people to pick up their phone and actually talk to a real person about their booking.

In June, Internova Travel Group launched a campaign based on this theme, called “Go Human. Book Human.” Internova, which is owned by travel investor Certares, built a dedicated platform featuring a searchable database of advisors, with buttons to easily call, or video, them.

“We may never have a more attentive audience to this messaging than we do today, and that’s super important because as marketers and advertisers, we’re always fighting for people’s attention and their eyeballs,” said Internova’s chief marketing officer Brent Rivard at the time.

Fora won’t just be about travel advisors, either, as there’s a reference to welcoming “anyone and everyone passionate about travel to earn money creating and selling travel experiences.” Does this open the door to creators and enthusiasts? Post pandemic, brand and destination marketing dollars will favor those who get hyper-creative, hyper-local and hyper-talented in video and storytelling content.

“Not only did the pandemic make many people realise how much value an agent can add for them, but I also think how much more amenable to a younger generation might now be to using a travel — and I don’t want to say ‘agent’ — but advisor or assistant or indeed, service provider,” said Riaan van Schoor CEO at Agentivity.

“There is plenty of space for good service in travel arrangements that are truly customer centric and offer that balance between service channels preferred by their customers and working hand in hand with suppliers to optimise this distribution channel,” he added.

With Fora, however, Frank has a slightly ambitious target of 100,000 “travel entrepreneurs.” And the travel agency model is one that’s in decline, and there’s a problem many people have been trying to crack for decades: commission rates and invoicing have never really worked in the agent’s favor. It will take more than a newfound love for travel agents to fix that.

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Tags: certares, coronavirus, internova, remote work, travel advisors, travel agencies

Photo credit: Evan Frank has launched a new business called Fora, a platform with branding, marketing, communications and commission tracking tools to help advisors sell holidays. Brooke Cagle / Unsplash

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