Pursuing a Career as a Travel Agent

One vocational career undergoing a significant amount of change is the position of travel agent.

Travel agents sell vacation experiences by setting up transportation, lodging and attractions for various individuals and groups planning trips. For the most part, travel agents are employed by travel agencies, but some are self-employed. Individuals who possess great customer service and communication skills will be ideal for the position. An increasingly large percentage of travel agents are beginning to work remotely, since the majority of their work revolves around talking on the phone with clients and looking up information on the computer. From 2016 to 2026, employment of travel agents is expected to experience a 12 percent decrease, but the industry overall is changing and specializing. Learn more about the career field in the sections that are below.

Job Description

Leisure travel agents offer vacation deals to the general public. Their job responsibilities include setting up trip itineraries based on the client’s wants and budget. In some instances, leisure travel agents will specialize in serving specific groups of people, such as seniors, LGBT travelers or individuals who are single. Others may focus on specific types of vacations, such as adventure tours or international trips.

Corporate travel agents, on the other hand, mainly attend to people or businesses that are in need of travel arrangements for their jobs. They may set up travel accommodations for employees who are traveling to attend a conference or a sales meeting. Along with these services, travel agents provide key information such as required documentation and total costs. They also give advice regarding local climate, important customs and available excursions.

Travel agents must sort through various sources of information to find the best deals and options for their clients. Along with searching through information, they may visit locations and attractions first hand to gain the appropriate knowledge. They evaluate hotels, restaurants and resorts based on comfort, cleanliness and the quality of the overall experience.

At the same time, numerous resorts and specialty groups reach out to travel agents to sell different travel packages to their clients. This allows them to review a wide variety of travel options to determine the best possible deals and arrangements.

Agents also use a reservation system referred to as the Global Distribution System (GDS), to receive additional travel information and confirm reservations with various entities, such as hotels, rental car companies, resorts and airlines. Once the client finalizes the vacation itinerary, travel agents create alternate accommodations in case changes present themselves before or during the trip.

Job Environment

In 2016, about 81,700 travel agents held jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Of them, 79 percent were employed by travel arrangement and reservation services, while 15 percent were self-employed. Typically, travel agents operate in either an office or a call center.

More often than not, travel agents work a full-time schedule. However, depending on the time of year, they may be required to work additional hours due to the high volume of clients. Travel agents must accommodate a client’s last-minute requests and needs during peak vacation times, such as summer.

Requirements and Qualifications

To become a travel agent, a high school diploma is usually required. However, employers may prefer candidates who have a college degree or have taken courses that correlate with the travel planning industry. Numerous community colleges, vocational schools and other industry organizations provide technical training or courses related to this career field, while certain colleges offer tourism degrees.

The courses cover information on reservation systems, marketing and laws about international travel. Employers throughout the travel industry will provide on-the-job training on the various computer programs that will be utilized. In certain states, travel agents are required to possess a business license to offer travel accommodations and services.

One may take the Travel Agent Proficiency (TAP) test to find out where he or she stands regarding knowledge and experience. There are no eligibility restrictions, and it is administered by the Travel Institute. Along with introductory programs, the Travel Institute also offers training and professional certification for experienced travel agents.

Individuals with limited experience have the opportunity to become a Certified Travel Associate (CTA) following their completion of the course. Individuals who possess a minimum of five years of experience can acquire a Certified Travel Counselor (CTC) certification through the completion of the course. Travel agents must continue their training and education each year to maintain the certifications.

Effective communication skills are required for the position, since listening and speaking with different clients will be everyday occurrences. In many instances, clients will call to make last-minute adjustments to their vacation itinerary, which require travel agents to respond to complaints and problems in a professional manner. Along with these necessary qualities, travel agents must be detail oriented and organized since they will dealing with numerous clients at once.

Compensation

As of May 2017, the median annual wage for travel agents was $36,990. The median wage refers to the middle wage of an occupation. This means that half of travel agents made more than that amount and half made less.

The top 10 percent received more than $62,320, while the bottom 10 percent made less than $21,350. The wages listed above also include the revenue earned from commissions. The top-paying industries for this career field are the following:

  • Scheduled air transportation – $57,650
  • Management, scientific and technical consulting services – $54,110
  • Nondepository credit intermediation – $46,770
  • Other support services – $46,200
  • Agencies, brokerages and other insurance related activities – $41,480

Job Outlook

The expected decline in the travel agent industry directly correlates with travelers’ ability to utilize the internet to search various vacation spots and book their own trips. An increasingly large amount of travel websites and mobile applications have enabled consumers to search through numerous vacation ideas with a click.

However, travelers may become overwhelmed with the vast amount of information and hire a travel agent to avoid this frustrating situation due to the large amount of sites that offer this service. On the bright side, a few job openings might become available due to the rise of experienced travel agents entering retirement age.

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