Work Abroad

Making Commissions on the Road, the Middleman

How to get your cut by knowing the sharp angles…

He returned the money, keeping only one anna in each rupee of the price of the Umballa ticket as his commission- the immemorial commission of Asia.

(Kim by Rudjard Kipling))

We’ve all been harassed by merchants and touts on the road. From carpet sellers to tour guides to dope dealers, the traveller is seen as a target, full of saved up foreign currency to spend. Our eyes are met, our elbows are tugged and our taxis diverted to gem stores run by scheisters with fake, gleaming smiles.

Thing is, we do actually need and want to buy stuff when we’re away. We need to find good rooms, cheap bus tickets, presents for friends back home, dope to smoke, maybe we’d even secretly like to have that emerald ring but are too scared to make a fool of ourselves by buying coloured glass. Besides, with so many scammers and sharks out there, how do we even start looking?

Merchants all round the world despair of tight backpackers and distrustful tourists. All they want to do is get rid of some questionable merchandise and unburden the foreigner of some of that heavy, hard currency – but the spirit of trust is long dead…

That’s where you come in.

Most foreigners will trust another foreigner long before a local. You might have the same racial features, speak the same language and share a whole bunch of cultural references that make you more familiar – and hence trustworthy – than all the local shopkeepers put together.

Taking Commission

So here’s how it works: you spot travellers in the bus station, walking around the main plaza or sitting in a café and you get chatting. You let it be known that you’ve been in town for some weeks now and offer to show them around. They get a free tour, some inside information and at some point you drop in for tea at your favourite carpet shop – if your new friends buy something you get the pre-arranged commission from the owner of the store.

You make sure to take commission only from honest shops that provide good quality goods at reasonable prices and so your conscience is clear. The tourists have got what they wanted with minimal stress, the local merchant has made his sale and you have made enough commission to keep you another day on the road.

Sorting Out Hotels & Apartments

A variant of this is to meet travellers at the bus station and take them to a good hotel. Make deals with 2 or 3 hotels of varying rates in advance and then you assess how much the new arrivals are willing to pay. Get some photos of the place, a business card and hustle the travellers into a taxi (who also pays you commission) before they can get out the kryptonite of all commission-seekers – the guidebook.

If you’re somewhere where travellers might want to hang around for a week or more, you can also sort them out apartments. Get a list of landlords who rent apartments on a short-term basis, work out the price and then add 20% on top as your commission. You show the travellers the place, get them to sign some contract that’s not worth the paper it’s printed on, collect the cash and give them the key. Tickets and Services

If you find a good flight agent you can phone up and sort tickets out (adding your commission), likewise for tickets to sports events, concerts and festivals. Once you’ve brought a couple of clients to the agents they’ll know to take you seriously and won’t grumble too much about coming up with a quote for that Carnival/football/flight ticket.

How to Find Customers

Most of your clients will be found in the street. Buy them a drink, get chatting and be a general fountain of information, stories and good company. If the conversation comes around to something you can sell, all well and good, if not leave them with your card and let them know about the services you can provide.

And when there’s no new backpackers in the street, there’s always the internet. You can become an authoritative poster on relevant forums (be the Rio expert on the Brazil Thorn Tree!) or maintain a twitter feed @buenasairesguide posting links to events and info until people begin to ask you questions about their upcoming trip or vacation – bang! You’ve got them!

The Karma of the Middleman (Middleperson?)

Are you a parasite? Could the traveller have found a better price without you? Are you abusing people’s trust to make a profit?

Well, you might be. It depends how you do it. You might also be saving travellers from getting ripped off by double-dealing gem merchants or staying in fleabag hotels or missing out on that alternative theatre event that they didn’t even know was going on.

Ideally, you should be a bridge. You’re a quality control between the buyer and the seller, making sure everyone concerned is happy about the transaction. Especially you…