Becoming a Travel Agent: Salary Information & Job Description

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What are the pros and cons of a travel agent career? Get real job descriptions, career prospects and salary info to see if becoming a travel agent is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Travel Agent Career

If you're a people-person with an interest in foreign or domestic travel and have a level of comfort with computers, a career as a travel agent might pique your interest. Knowing the pros and cons of a career as a travel agent can help you decide if it's a good fit for you.

Pros of a Travel Agent Career
Can provide opportunities for discounted travel and lodging*
May require brief postsecondary education or training (49% have a high school diploma; 45% have a postsecondary certificate; and 3% have some college but no degree)**
Allows for specialization in destination travel or working with particular types of travelers*
Can be self-employed by opening your own agency*

Cons of a Travel Agent Career
Online travel sales and research may reduce demand for travel agents*
Relatively low earnings potential (average yearly salary of $37,730 as of 2014)*
Can be stressful, especially during peak travel seasons*
Demand fluctuates based on economic conditions and international stability*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **O*NET OnLine.

Essential Career Information

Job Description

Travel agents help clients plan vacations and book transportation, lodging and activities at destinations all over the world. They might work for travel agencies, tour companies, cruise lines, hotels and resorts, transportation carriers and more, providing expert knowledge on travel options to their clients. Even though many of these services can be researched and reserved through websites, a travel agent provides customer service, giving advice and recommendations in the planning stages and helping clients find the best fares and rates for their allotted budget by using both computer resources and travel publications.

They also answer client questions about necessary travel documentation, customs regulations, health issues and other nuances of international travel so clients are adequately prepared. If something goes wrong or plans change, a travel agent might need to help travelers rearrange or cancel their accommodations, transportation or other reservations.

Salary Information and Career Prospects

As of May 2014, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) said travel agents earned approximately $37,000 per year on average, with most travel agents earning between $19,000 and $59,000 per year. About 80% of travel agents work at agencies or in the arrangement and reservation services industry, so it's likely that you would start you career working for an established travel agency. With some experience, you might choose to open your own travel business. It could be awhile before you gain enough clients to turn a profit, so it is helpful to have strong business, sales and marketing skills if you choose to strike out on your own.

As a career field with a decline of 12% in job growth, choosing to become a travel agent means you need to enter the job market with the skills and knowledge employers are looking for. The BLS suggested that some successful travel agents have carved out space for themselves by serving niche markets and focusing on specific types of travelers, like business executives traveling for work or special interest adventures.

Career Skills and Requirements

Generally speaking, you need to have a high school diploma or GED before you can consider a career as a travel agent. Additionally, nearly half of the professionals in this field have some formal training or have taken college courses. You can consider a professional certificate or associate's degree in travel and tourism in order to learn about the travel industry, explore different travel options available to customers and develop essential business, sales, marketing and record-keeping skills. The BLS also said that some states require travel agencies to be licensed businesses, so if you decide to open your own agency, you will need to investigate your state's regulations.

Since travel agents provide customer service and interact closely with potential travelers, employers encourage developing your communication abilities, including listening, writing and speaking face-to-face or over the telephone. Successful travel agents are knowledgeable experts who can sort through all kinds of information, make astute recommendations for clients and stay organized in the process. A love of travel and first-hand experience might also help you develop relationships with clients and clinch sales.

Job Postings from Real Employers

Regardless of the size of the company (opportunities can exist at large and small agencies alike), employers look for tech-savvy travel agents with between one and five years' job experience and excellent people skills. Whether a full-service agency or a company that specializes in corporate, group, destination or leisure travel, employers consistently looked for applicants who were familiar with online research, reservation and booking procedures; had experience with one or more industry-specific software packages; and were generally comfortable with computers. Here's a sampling of travel agent job postings from April 2012:

  • A flight booking service in Florida wanted bilingual travel agents with two years of flight sales experience and knowledge of Amadeus travel reservation systems. Applicants needed to be able to cater to affluent foreign travelers and recommend appropriate destinations worldwide.
  • A Chicago-area agency specializing in corporate travel sought applicants with five years of agency experience who could book both international and domestic itineraries. The employer emphasized customer service skills and the ability to multi-task.
  • An Atlanta company looked for travel agents with knowledge of several proprietary reservation and booking systems and five years of experience. This posting also mentioned customer service skills at the VIP level.
  • An Ohio travel agency advertised for an agent who could plan and reserve travel products, ranging from transportation and lodging to full vacation packages, with an emphasis on catering to the needs of the client. This company stressed building customer relationships through face-to-face and telephone communication, as well as outgoing sales calls.

How to Maximize Your Skills

Complete Specialized Training

Because the BLS and job postings emphasized specific skills and experience as necessary for prospective travel agents, your training and familiarity with industry-standard technology can help you stand out from other applicants. The American Society of Travel Agents offers training courses in sales and marketing techniques, management and general leisure travel, plus an array of specialized courses to help you work with specific groups of travelers or focus on destinations or types of travel. Similarly, the Travel Institute has training in various types of travel, such as destination weddings and sustainable travel, which might broaden your opportunities for working with niche markets.

Get Certified

Besides attaining formal training offered through employers and educational programs, you might consider professional certifications, like those offered by the Travel Institute. Designations include Certified Travel Associate (CTA), Certified Travel Counselor (CTC) and Certified Travel Industry Executive (CTIE), each of which requires specific levels of industry experience, training, a passing exam score and a fee. If you want to specialize in corporate travel, you can become certified through the Global Business Travel Association as a Global Travel Professional (GTP). Like other certifications, this requires that you have three years of appropriate job experience, pay an exam fee and pass a test.

Other Careers to Consider

Flight Attendant

If you love working with people but would rather not spend your time answering telephones and working with computers, perhaps a position as a flight attendant might be of interest. Flight attendants provide customer service by attending to the needs of airline passengers, and the BLS reported that flight attendants spend between 75 and 90 hours a month in the air. O*Net Online stated that about half (48%) of flight attendants have earned a high school education, but the BLS added that a degree in tourism, hospitality or a related field can be helpful. If you choose this career, you will need to earn FAA certification. Average yearly wages for flight attendants were about $42,000 as of 2011, according to the BLS. The field, however, was expected to experience little or no change in employment from 2010-2020 due to rising overhead costs.

Hotel or Resort Manager

A career as a lodging manager is another alternative to travel agent that you might want to consider. In this field, you would provide a welcoming guest experience for travelers and vacationers and might work in a tourist location. Required education varies from one company or property to the next; some small properties may require a high school education or associate's degree, while larger hotel chains might expect a bachelor's degree. On average, lodging managers earned $55,000 annually as of 2011, and employment growth was estimated at 8% for the 2010-2020 decade.

Meeting, Convention or Event Planner

If you want a career that showcases your organizational, communication and customer service skills, you might consider becoming an event planner. This position requires a person who can plan and execute the details of all kinds of gatherings based on the needs and wants of the client. The BLS said that these planners typically hold a bachelor's degree and have some hospitality industry experience. This is also a rapidly growing career field, with employment expected to increase by 44% between 2010 and 2020; bachelor's degree holders and those with professional certification were forecast to have the best opportunities. As of 2011, the average yearly salary for an event, meeting or convention planner was about $50,000, per the BLS.

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Kaplan University

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University of Delaware

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Northcentral University

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Trident University

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Grand Canyon University

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Herzing University

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Utica College

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