Once a buzzword, work/life balance is now a priority for most professionals. Great news: the travel industry, like many others, is evolving to accommodate these changing priorities. Independent Travel Consultants (ITCs) have emerged at the forefront of this transformation, offering a fresh approach to the conventional travel agent role.
Flight Centre Independent (FCI) recently conducted a survey to understand the motivations behind the increasing shift towards the independent route (of which 85.51% respondents were women). The findings were telling. The top three considerations for travel agents when transitioning to the role of ITC were flexibility, earning potential, and the ability to work from anywhere in the world.
Delving deeper into these insights, an impressive 100% of respondents felt their work/life balance and overall flexibility had improved since going independent. Furthermore, 91% believed their earnings had improved, and 55% reported a boost in their professional growth.
But how does the ITC model offer flexibility in contrast to traditional travel agent roles? What are the other benefits? And what do ITCs consider their most pressing challenges? Read on to explore the answers to these questions and more.
The Rise of the Independent Travel Consultant (ITC)
ITCs combine the expertise of traditional travel agents with the flexibility of independent entrepreneurs. While the freedom to steer their own ship is a core tenet of their role, there’s a common misconception: that independence means isolation.
Luckily, being independent doesn’t imply working in solitude. By aligning with a reputable host agency, ITCs gain not only the autonomy they seek but also the backing of robust support systems.
According to Chantal Gouws, GM of Flight Centre Independent:
“At Flight Centre Independent, we empower our ITCs to consistently upskill and keep up with evolving industry trends. We also offer 24/7 ticketing and provide the best possible travel rates to ensure our ITCs’ businesses remain competitive. Additionally, we allow them to select a branded or unbranded partnership with us. The goal is to optimise flexibility for our independents in every aspect of their business.”
Benefits of the ITC model for work/life balance
1. Unparalleled flexibility
It’s clear the very essence of the ITC role is its inherent flexibility. It allows consultants to tailor their schedules around life’s many demands. Whether it’s taking a mid-day break to attend a school event or reconfiguring work hours to manage personal commitments, the ITC model empowers professionals to take charge of their time.
Michelle Page, a seasoned consultant with Flight Centre for over two decades, reflected on her transition from Flight Centre Sandton City to an ITC role with Flight Centre Independent:
“Flexibility was what I was looking for after having my children, and Flight Centre Independent provided it. My priorities changed, and it was wonderful that I could adapt my career accordingly. I love being able to go on family holidays, attend sports days, and create my own day-to-day schedule that doesn’t have to be 9 to 5 in an office.”
2. Freedom of location
The digital age and the ITC model go hand in hand. It offers the liberty to work from anywhere, removing the constraints of a fixed office space. Whether it’s from the comfort of your home, under the palm trees on the beach in the Maldives, or a bustling city café, the world becomes an ITC’s potential workspace.
3. Personal prioritisation
For many, the biggest allure of the ITC route is the ability to prioritise life events and personal responsibilities without the guilt or stress often experienced in traditional job settings.
Leigh Brophy, a single mother and ITC, shared her experience:
“Since transitioning to an ITC role, I know that whenever required, I’m able to say: ‘This can wait, I need to collect my son from daycare’ or ‘This can wait because my son has an outing today.’ Also, I can’t fault FCI on their support at all. If I’m stuck during the day, I know there’s always someone willing to help me.”
4. Earning potential
As an ITC, what you put in is what you get out. Plus, you can capitalise on various other financial perks.
As ITC Marga du Toit aptly sums it up, you get four Fs when you take the independent route: flexibility, freedom, fun, and fortune!
Addressing potential challenges
Every career path comes with its own set of challenges, and the ITC model is no exception. Here are a few potential hurdles to be aware of, along with some advice for overcoming them.
1. Setting boundaries
The freedom of flexible hours and working from any location can fall on either side of the coin regarding work/life balance – there’s a potential risk of work seeping into personal time if you’re not strict about setting boundaries.
Strategies to address this:
- Scheduled work hours: Even though you have the freedom, maintaining a semi-regular work schedule can help delineate work from personal time. Adapt your hours as needed from day-to-day.
- Use time management tools: Apps like Trello, Asana, or simple calendar reminders can help allocate specific times for tasks.
- Dedicated Workspace: If working at home, create a distinct workspace, even if it’s just a corner of a room. This helps to mentally separate ‘work mode’ from ‘home mode’.
2. Client communication
With the freedom to set your own schedule, it’s crucial to manage client expectations regarding your availability.
Strategies to address this:
- Set clear communication guidelines: Inform clients about your working hours and expected response times.
- Utilise automated responses: Set up automated email responses or messenger bots to inform clients when they can expect a reply, especially during times when you know you’ll be unavailable.
3. Maintaining professional growth
Being independent can sometimes mean missing out on regular training sessions or industry updates typically provided in traditional settings.
Strategies to address this:
- Choose the right host agency: Reputable host agencies will provide access to helpful resources and ongoing training.
- Dedicate time for learning: Allocate specific times in your schedule for online courses, webinars, or reading industry news.
- Network with peers: Regularly engage with fellow ITCs or industry groups to share knowledge and stay updated.
4. Isolation and loneliness
Working independently might lead to feelings of loneliness, especially if you’re used to a bustling office environment.
Strategies to Address this:
- Utilise co-working spaces: These spaces provide the ambience of an office and an opportunity to interact with other professionals.
- Regularly attend industry events or meetups: Networking events or seminars can provide the social interaction that remote workers sometimes miss – you’ll undoubtedly forge a few beneficial business connections, too.
The rise of the ITC model exemplifies a new wave of professional thinking – one that embraces individuality, autonomy, and balance. In the end, it’s about crafting a professional life that aligns with personal values and aspirations. The ITC model serves as a compelling blueprint for those looking to redefine their professional journey in the modern age.