A travel agent career involves selling transportation, lodging and entertainment activities to individuals and groups planning trips. Travel agents offer advice on destinations, plan trip itineraries, and make travel arrangements for clients. Agents may also provide advice regarding specific destinations, attractions, activities, exhibitions, tours and cruise lines or even specialize in particular areas of travel such as business, leisure or unique destinations. An agent may work in a large travel agency, a small local agency, or be self-employed.
Day in the Life of a Travel Agent
Travel agents help customers navigate the complex 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.
The agent's job for a 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.
Many agents — especially those who are self-employed — may work long hours, although the use of personal computers and advanced telecommunications systems make it possible for a growing number of them to work from home. On a typical day, a travel agent may spend a lot of time performing a variety of tasks such as:
- Talking with customers (either face to face or over the phone) to determine dates of travel, destinations, mode of travel and necessary travel accommodations
- Describing, planning and selling itinerary tour packages and arranging for promotional travel incentives offered by travel carriers
- Researching, booking and confirming reservations with airlines, hotels and other vendors
- Calculating and comparing travel costs and completing paperwork
- Collecting payment for booked travel arrangements
Part of a travel agent's job may involve visiting hotels, resorts and restaurants to evaluate comfort, cleanliness and quality as a basis for future recommendations to customers.
Important Characteristics for Travel Agents
Successful travel agents tend to share several characteristics. They know how to identify a client's personal preferences and can translate that into good customer experiences. They understand that good customer service may require them to be persuasive and good negotiators to fulfill their client's needs.
Travel agents frequently solve problems on the fly, applying critical thinking to make sound decisions. Clear communication skills (such as listening, speaking, and writing) are a must in this profession. Good computer skills, clerical skills, and being highly organized are also essential.
Are you ready to learn how to become a travel agent? The minimum qualification for becoming a travel agent is a high school diploma, although most agencies (and especially large firms) prefer applicants who have training from a postsecondary vocational school, college or university. A few colleges offer bachelor's or master's degrees in travel and tourism.
Travel agent classes are also offered in public adult education programs, online and in community colleges. Travel agent training can give you a cutting edge when it comes to new trends in travel, places to go, how to best operate reservations systems and more. Alternatively, some agents begin their careers as reservation clerks or receptionists in travel agencies, in which a significant amount of on-the-job training is provided with an emphasis placed on reservation systems.
Some states require travel agents to be certified and/or have a business license. Check with your state's department of commerce for information.
After working as a travel agent for several years, some agents take their career to the next level by earning a certification. Examples:
- Certified Travel Associate and Certified Travel Counselor certificates — offered through the Travel Institute
- Global Leadership Professional, Corporate Travel Expert and Corporate Travel Executive certificates — offered through The National Business Travel Association
While a travel agent course is designed to help you acquire the basic skills necessary to function as a travel agent, following these tips can help you improve your skills to gain a competitive advantage:
- Read travel magazines and research current travel trends online. As a travel agent, you'll need to be very knowledgeable about many destinations. Reading and research can also help you become familiar with things like weather conditions, attractions, local customs and events.
- Travel as much as possible. Personal travel experience can be a great basis for acquiring knowledge about a city or foreign country.
- Learn a foreign language. This skill can prove invaluable for a travel agent, especially those who work in agencies that focus on international travel.
- Summary Report for Travel Agents, O*NET OnLine, https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/41-3041.00
- Travel Agents, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/sales/travel-agents.htm