Fora Targets the Travel Agent Skills Gap

Skift Take

Fora touts itself as a modern travel agency giving individuals, even those with zero experience, the opportunity to become a travel advisor while keeping their day job. But the potential risk has seen it up its game from a free-to-join model to a quarterly subscription offering, with in-house tech, tools and advanced training.

Selene Brophy

Deploying travel advisors with zero travel booking experience sounds like a bad idea. But travel agency Fora believes it is leveling the playing field for individuals passionate about travel to earn extra income by planning and booking trips.

Skift previously reported on Fora’s ambitions to “easily recruit some 100 000” newbies to the industry after raising a total of $18.5 million in venture funding, notably $13.5 million in Series A funding in August last year.

Started as a free-to-join model, the company claims it has seen plenty of people wanting to test travel booking as a potential career change, with a 40,000-strong waiting list.

Since October last year, it has charged advisors a quarterly fee of $49 to join. A key difference with Fora is that travel advisors can join, while still keeping their main job.

Speaking to Skift about the questionable skills gap, as “97 percent of Fora’s 500 active advisors” have never booked a trip before, co-founder Henley Vazquez said their “modern travel agency isn’t about blowing up existing systems.”

Instead, she said it’s about bringing in “new supply, with new clients who have never before been engaged in the travel market.”

“Hotels are our bread and butter, but advisors can plan as much, or as little, of a traveler’s experience as they want.”

Vazquez said the company is solely focused on bringing in the right people into its network, allowing advisors to earn commission from day one and benefit from selected preferred partnerships, including the Virtuoso agency group.

Fora Advisors are onboarded through month-long training cohorts. Certified advisors then qualify for its new advanced 60-day curriculum, which is both learning and milestone-based.

Drawn to the Modern Brand

Meredith Alexander, who is midway through the first advanced training program, calls herself an almost empty nester, with one child in varsity and another set to finish high school.

Drawn to the brand she discovered on Instagram, Alexander says it was different from her fuddy-duddy perception of travel agents.

“It’s a robust community, with the ongoing support of co-advisors. The camaraderie is incredible,” she said.

Making the shift as an executive director of a non-profit, Alexander says he cannot believe how easy it has been to pick up a side hustle with a minimal cash layout.

Her biggest learning curve was being impatient to get started.

“I’m a ‘beginner-brain’ type of person and love learning, but in my first month, I booked a friend a stay at a Paris boutique hotel I had visited. It wasn’t to his liking, though.”

Alexander says the “cancellation policy was vague.” Because the hotel did not fall within the gambit of partnerships that set Fora apart for its value-adds, it was a costly lesson.

“I could lean on the support of experienced Fora advisors to complete a workaround to move my friend.”

She says her friend is still trying to secure a refund through his credit card.

Alexander has “successfully booked $30,000 in travel and is working towards a goal of $100,000 worth of travel booked in 12 months.” This would increase her commission earning capacity from six percent of the overall 10 percent commission to eight percent.

She says it wouldn’t cross her mind to branch out independently to earn the full commission.

“The support, the foundation of the team, there’s just no substitute for all the experience, backend work and partnerships.”

Advanced 60-day Curriculum Worth $6k

Vazquez stated the advanced certification, worth an estimated $6 000, is mentored by 27 existing Fora staff members with “years of travel advisor experience.”

Ross Thomason, head of training and development at Fora, said the program requires assembling a portfolio of assets outlining successes across multiple suppliers, destinations, and clients.

According to Thomason, the expertise, no matter how niche, better positions the advanced advisors to build their brand.

But what if they decide to opt out?

The company is flexible, with no performance metric terms and conditions to be completed by those who qualify.

“We have a quarterly subscription model, and advisors can cancel anytime,” said Thomason.

In-House Tech and Tools Development

Travel advisors at Fora are not the only ones upping their game. At launch, the agency didn’t have a booking system. It now has a “personalized advisor portal to track bookings, access training and utilize marketing resources.”

A community app, called Forum, connects “advisors directly with one another and other travel industry pros.”

As an added benefit, the company’s “magic feature” marketing tool creates customized marketing materials attributed to each advisor — but it does not use AI tools like ChatGPT, according to Vazquez.

A client management tool is also in the pipeline.

The desire for meaningful, flexible work is growing, and Fora clearly intends to be adaptable for its advisors.

While the average revenue data per advisor was not available at the time of publishing, the company’s more focused approach to upskilling should translate into increased booked trips and revenue.

If not, its training and advanced curriculum, all camaraderie aside, must return to the drawing board.