This article describes what a travel agent does and outlines the steps to embarking on a travel agent career.
What does a travel agent do?
Travel agents help customers navigate through the often laborious process of making the best possible travel arrangements in terms of convenience and cost. In doing so, they need to sort through vast amounts of information with an informed perspective that the average traveler may not possess. They need to know a lot about various destinations and the best ways to get there. In addition, they are also expected to know about things to see and do, weather conditions, travel advisories, and currency exchange rates.
Once an optimal itinerary is decided upon, the agent's primary function for his/her client becomes the booking of arrangements for hotel reservations, transportation, car or bus rentals and tours. But the agent's job for that client is not necessarily over after the trip is booked. In the event of itinerary changes in the middle of the trip, the travel agent will be called upon to intercede on the customer's behalf to make adjustments and/or alternate booking arrangements.
Travel agents are the primary source of bookings for most of the major cruise lines. In addition, many resorts and specialty travel groups use travel agents to promote travel packages to their clients. In these cases, the agent will promote the packages using telemarketing, direct mail, and the Internet. They may also conduct presentations to social groups and arrange company-sponsored trips for businesses. In fact, many travel agents specialize in specific destinations or in selling to particular demographic groups.
To do their job, travel agents use a variety of published sources (many of them computer-based) for information on fares, rates, group discounts, travel promotions, hotel quality, and departure/arrival times. Part of their job often entails visiting hotels, resorts, and restaurants themselves to evaluate comfort, cleanliness, and quality as a basis for future recommendations to customers. In today's world, travel agents are confronted by increased competition from travel and airline websites who rely on customers to do their bookings directly. The major advantages a travel agent can claim are the ability to provide customized service, to arrange complex itineraries involving multiple destinations, and to save customers the hassle of researching and booking several components of a trip.
The typical day of a travel agent may consist of a lot of time spent conferring with customers face-to-face; on the phone speaking with airlines, hotels, etc.; at the computer doing research or booking reservations; and behind a desk completing paperwork. Many agents, especially those who are self-employed, may frequently work long hours although the onset of personal computers and advanced telecommunications systems make it possible for a growing number of them to work from home. Another perk of the profession is special travel benefits such as reduced rates for lodging and transportation.
According to 2013 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, approximately 12 percent of all travel agents in the U.S. were self-employed, while the other 83 percent worked for travel agencies. However, employment for travel agents is expected to decrease 12 percent nationally from 2012 to 2022.
On the whole, the best opportunities may tend to exist for agents who specialize in specific destinations, particular types of travel, or specialized clientele. As of May 2013, the median annual earnings of travel agents were $34,530 nationally. However, travel agents in certain industries tend to earn more than average. Examples include those who work in scenic and sightseeing transportation who earned an annual mean wage of $56,830 in 2013, and employees in deep sea, coastal, and great lakes water transportation who brought in a mean wage of $55,870.
Travel Agent Training
Here are some possible steps to follow to become a travel agent:
- Obtain a high school diploma. The minimum qualification for those interested in becoming a travel agent is a high school diploma or equivalent. Most agencies prefer applicants who have advanced credentials, but a high school education might get your foot in the door.
- Become knowledgeable about travel. Travel agents need to be well-versed about various destinations. They need to become familiar with things like weather conditions, attractions, local customs and events. One way to start learning is by subscribing to a wide variety of travel magazines and researching current travel trends online.
- Get additional related education. The best course of action is to obtain training at a postsecondary vocational school, college, or university. A few colleges even offer Bachelor's or Master's degrees in travel and tourism. Some of the larger travel agencies require their agents to have a liberal arts or business degree. Travel agent courses are also offered in public adult education programs, online, and in community colleges.
- Travel as much as possible. Personal travel experience can be a great basis for acquiring knowledge about a city or foreign country.
- Register with your state if applicable. Check with the state's Department of Commerce for any registration or certification requirements for travel agents. Some states actually require travel agents to be licensed to work in the profession. However, requirements vary.
How can a person become a GREAT travel agent?
- Become as computer-literate as possible. Travel agents conduct an increasingly large amount of their business online, and computer skills are essential for talking with clients and making travel reservations. Also, many travel agencies use websites to provide their services to clients. Take a computer and/or a web design course. Some vocational schools and junior colleges offer courses in the specialized software used at travel agencies.
- Learn a foreign language. This skill can prove invaluable for a travel agent, especially those who work in agencies that focus on international travel. Chinese, French, and Spanish are all good foreign languages to study for people interested in the profession.
- Obtain advanced credentials. After some work experience has been gained, it may be a good idea to work towards receiving one or more advanced certifications. One example is the CTC (Certified Travel Counselor) designation, which is conferred on professionals who have completed a rigorous five-part program of professional study and testing, and attained at least five years of travel industry experience.
Becoming a travel agent is a terrific way to interact with a wide variety of people, while at the same time learning a great deal about other places around the world. A love of travel and an enthusiasm for advising people are important traits for an agent to have. If a person can supplement these traits with excellent communication and computer skills, he/she may be well on the way to great success in the field.
Resources for Travel Agents
- The National Business Travel Association
- The American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA)
- Professional Association of Travel Hosts (PATH)
- Outside Sales Support Network (OSSN)
- National Association of Commissioned Travel Agents (NACTA)
- Certified Travel Counselor (CTC)
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, "Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition," Travel Agents, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/sales/travel-agents.htm#tab-1
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, "Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2013," Travel Agents, April 1, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes413041.htm