You got laid off from your job.
Your car’s transmission went.
Your kid’s college tuition is due.
In times of economic hardship, the first thing to go is travel. However, if you’re struggling to make ends meet, there is one way to bring in extra cash and keep your travel bug satisfied — become a part-time home-based travel agent.
Frank Hryszkanich, founder of the Association of Home-Based Travel Agents and Travel, Ports and Voyages LLC, a home-based travel agency headquartered in East Brunswick, said home-based travel agents have the best of both worlds.
“When you’re a home-based agent, you can learn about better travel choices while making commission, plus you can save money for your own travel,” he said.
Hryszkanich said that becoming a home-based travel agent is also ideal for someone who is retiring or who wants to see the world.
“There are still a lot of magical places left in the world and this is a great way to see them via leisure travel and business travel,” he said.
Janet Cargulia, a home-based travel agent who works with Travel, Ports and Voyages LLC, said she enjoys her career because of the creativity, freedom and flexibility involved.
“You can do this job in your pajamas or you can meet with clients and have Italian wine dinners,” she said.
Many home-based travel agents are in the business for extra income, a hobby or to get competitive travel rates for friends and family. About 10 to 15 percent of home-based travel agents work in the field full time, while the majority are part time. Full-time employees make, on average, about $15,000 to $30,000 a year, depending on how much business they bring in, because it is commission-based. Agents in the Association of Home-Based Travel Agents range from 29 years old to 79.
Part-time workers’ weekly hours vary greatly. Hryszkanich said that his 215 agents, who are independent contractors, make from a few hundred dollars a year to one who makes $70,000 working full time.
At Hryszkanich’s home-based travel agency, agents take home 70 percent of their commission and the agency takes 30 percent. This rate can generally range from 30 percent to zero percent, depending on the agency and how much help they provide the agent.
There are no credentials required to become a home-based travel agent, but there also aren’t any real educational facilities for those looking for more instruction besides books and webinars. To get started, home-based travel agents usually join an agency and use their credentials, or they start their own, which Hryszkanich said is a lengthy process.
Cargulia has about 350 clients but started out much more modestly.
“I started out very small because I really wanted to know how to do this. It doesn’t happen overnight, so you shouldn’t get discouraged. It’s on-the-job training,” she said.
Seven years ago, Hryszkanich was a home-based travel agent working for an agency. His agency would bring travel suppliers, such as cruise lines and resorts, in to speak to the agents to educate them on their programs, but he said it was very difficult to ask questions as well as gain training.
“The agency was all about sell, sell, sell, and I wanted to do something totally different which would be more fun and social,” he said. “Plus I wanted to learn and have a good time.”
So Hryszkanich started his own agency.
“Many home-based travel agents don’t know their product, but I didn’t want my agents to just say, ‘I’m a travel agent’ and that’s it,” he said. “My goal is training, training and more training. I want you to sell these programs and be able to say, ‘Oh, this is fantastic’ and know what a bargain is when you see it.”
This also led Hryszkanich to start an association, which includes 300 to 350 agents, some who work for his agency and some who could be classified as competitors. There is no membership fee for new agents, just a $25 fee for which several employees train agents in a three-hour one-on-one.
Hryszkanich said that he started the association because he wanted to get something else from the suppliers because his agents were doing so much business with them.
“I retired at 55,” he said. “I’m here for socializing, not for the money. However, I also don’t work for thank yous anymore. Since we are selling a lot, we can get upgrades such as bottles of wine, discounts or other amenities.”
One of the biggest benefits in joining the association is the monthly travel seminars, which occur every second Tuesday of the month at the East Grand Buffet, 6 Edgeboro Road #15 in East Brunswick.
Generally, about four to five suppliers come and speak to 25 to 75 agents, each for about 30 minutes, while agents eat dinner for $13 a person. Agents are welcome to bring guests as long as they are over 18. Webinars are also available for those unable to attend.
“No one is selling to you — you are there to learn their product,” Hryszkanich said.
Some of the past speaking suppliers have been Royal Caribbean Cruises, Disney Cruises, United Vacations, AmaWaterways River Cruises, Blue Sky Tours, SeaWorld and Universal Studios.
“Suppliers are very anxious to come and speak to us because they can’t come to the home-based travel agents’ homes, but here is a venue for them to go to. By coming into a restaurant, they can meet a whole bunch of agents at once,” Hryszkanich said.
The association also offers several other special events, such as a bus trip to Philadelphia on May 16, which, for $50, will include dinner, a historic tour, a trip to the 9th Street Italian Market Festival and tours of Philadelphia’s Chinatown, Rocky Steps and Reading Terminal Market.
Although the Internet has changed the work of travel agents, Hryszkanich firmly believes that travel agents will always have a place in the travel industry.
“We like to say that the Internet is for looking and travel agents are for booking,” he said. “Are you going to put $15,000 on your credit card to go somewhere you’re not really sure about? It’s daunting with all of the travel sites out there. People are getting information online, but they want to go to a person for their questions.”
For more information on the Association of Home-Based Travel Agents or Travel, Ports and Voyages LLC, you can contact Frank Hryszkanich at 732-251-1775 or FrankH@TPVP.com.