When the pandemic hit, years' worth of Ralph Iantosca's bookings came undone. It was like money just flying out the window, Iantosca, owner of Iantosca Travel in Irving, Texas, recalls.
"And I was really frustrated like everybody else in our world -- suppliers, agents, nobody really understood what was going on," he says. "Everybody was canceling, wanting refunds and so forth."
It made him, in a word, angry.
Iantosca found himself wanting to do business differently. He wanted to be more selective about the clients he worked with and the trips he booked for them. Previously, he felt like he couldn't say no to a referral from a client. But he wanted freedom from that feeling.
He also recognized that travel will likely always have some kind of disruptor, some instability in the world, and getting paid based mainly on client travel wasn't a sustainable option.
As he started rethinking his model, he, like everyone else during the lockdown period of the pandemic, turned on Netflix. When it came time to renew his subscription, a lightbulb went off at that word: Subscription.
"Subscription is choice," he says.
He would ask clients to subscribe to his services. He would present his rules, parameters and boundaries and offer them the choice to work with him.
First, Iantosca worked with his lawyer to craft a contract. Then, he started calling his best clients and pitching the idea.
He felt vulnerable, he said, and scared, but the approach worked.
Iantosca offers 50 subscriptions at any time. He keeps a waiting list in case spots open up. Each client pays $5,000 up front, or 20 hours at $250 per hour. If clients go over 20 hours of planning in a year, they are billed as needed.
"What I liked about this new model is that it took the pressure off the commission," he says. "It now let me do what I needed to do, bill like an attorney or anyone else paid hourly to do the work, which is really important."
After the first year, it came time for renewals. Some decided to drop the subscription. Others re-upped it, even if they hadn't used it in the year prior. Open spots went to those on the waitlist.
For other clients who in the past had only traveled once a year or once every few years, Iantosca offers a group program. They can enjoy traveling under his watchful eye, but services aren't tailored to the individuals, but instead the groups.
At the end of the day, Iantosca said, the only fallout came from clients who didn't want to pay an annual subscription.
"I'm happy with this new plan," he says.
Iantosca has developed a course for agents who would like to start a similar model. The 10-hour class is $2,500 (the same as the $250 hourly fee he charges clients).
* This article originally appeared on Travel Weekly.