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By Owen Wild

There is a growing trend among small and mid-size businesses to have a portion – or even all – of your employee base permanently telecommute or work from home, primarily due to lower overhead costs for the business and the more convenient work environment for the employees. We have seen this with customer service reps from some well-respected companies in a variety of industries – loan processing, telemarketing, and even travel agencies.

For several years now, traditional travel agencies have been exploring the idea of sending a portion or even their entire team of agents home to conduct business via telephone, email and the Internet. Agencies embark on this move home seeking to reduce or eliminate their presence in costly retail storefronts due to high overhead cost and a lack of walk-in customer demand.

Additionally, a growing number of entrepreneurs are opening new travel agencies that start out in the home. And despite common perceptions in the marketplace that the use of travel agents is waning, the travel agent business is alive and kicking – just down the hall, not downtown!

According to a 2005 CreditSuisse First Boston report, there were an estimated 15,000 – 20,000 qualified home-based travel agents in the U.S. and that number is expected to grow to approximately 40,000 by 2010. Those numbers don’t even account for part-time home-based agents.

One of the main enablers for the move of the travel agency business, as well as other industries, into the home is new Web-based software systems. Individual travel agents and agencies are transitioning their travel reservation booking systems to the home using new software and little more than a phone line and high-speed Internet connection. Several leading travel technology companies, including my company Amadeus North America, have been marketing Web-based desktop software platforms that utilize intuitive graphical user interfaces with point-and-click navigation much like the popular online travel reservation sites that consumers crave.

These software platforms help travel agents access travel products from the majority of suppliers globally and enable them to respond to the travel needs of their customers, no matter whether they are at home or on the road through a Web browser. And they ensure that agents have the ability to continue tracking the important commissions and incentives that they receive from the travel suppliers for booking various products like cruises, hotels and car rentals. Many of the more popular Web-based software systems also provide real-time training and technical help desk support and can be tied to back-office and operational systems to manage customer invoicing, sales forecasts, profitability and other crucial functions to help run a successful business.

One home-based travel agency owner in Detroit has successfully made the transition from a brick-and-mortar agency in the local business district (and his entire client base) to his home in suburban Detroit. Filip Kahn, owner of Kirby Preferred Travel, realized that his overhead costs of running a storefront in one of Detroit’s top downtown high-rises was making his business less profitable every quarter.

His agency had once had up to eight agents working in the retail location, but as Kahn tried to streamline his business and maximize profits, he knew that he could best serve his key clients himself from home. Therefore, Kahn decided to close the doors of his storefront agency on October 31, 2004, and opened for business on November 1, as a home-based travel agency seamlessly (except for a mere phone number change).

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Owen Wild is the Director of Marketing for Amadeus North America.
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