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Pursuing a Career as a Travel Agent

Travel agents help their clients plan trips by setting up lodging and transportation.

Some travel agents provide more in-depth services. These travel agents help their clients plan out specific details of the trip, such as what attractions to see in the area. Travel agents work with both groups and individuals.

Many travel agents are part of an agency, but others work as freelancers. A good travel agent must possess multiple skills, whether they work for themselves or an agency.

Communication is key as a travel agent, as well as research. You must be able to reach out to both your client as well as vendors in other states. Depending on the complexity of the trip, you may have to juggle multiple time zones while setting up a trip.

Thanks to advancements in digital technology and cellphones, more travel agents are working remotely. Clients typically only go into a physical office to plan more extensive trips with multiple locations.

Unfortunately, because of the internet travel agents are not in high demand. Recent studies predict a 12 percent decrease in travel agency jobs by 2026. The profession is far from gone though, and you can still make a profitable living as a travel agent, as noted below.

Job Description

Two primary types of travel agents exist. The first time of agent is known as a leisure travel agent. Leisure travel agents set up relaxing vacations for their clients. Most clients go to a leisure travel agent with a general vacation idea in mind, such as wanting to visit a famous attraction or a theme park. Leisure travel agents specialize in certain groups, such as helping families or elderly travelers. Other agents specialize in specific vacations, like international trips or cruises.

Corporate travel agents work with businesses to set up work related travel arrangements. Whenever an employee needs to travel to a corporate meeting in another state or receive specialized training, they hire a corporate travel agent to make the trip easier. Corporate travel agents often have an easy job, since corporate trips are typically straightforward.

Both leisure and corporate travel agents help clients by providing additional information about the trip, such as expected costs and the climate in the region to help clients pack.

Communication is important for travel agents. Travel agents must identify everything the client is looking for, taking their ideas and turning them into the perfect vacation. When possible, travel agents travel to locations to experience them first hand, but this is not always an option. Travel agents must be knowledgeable about hotels, restaurants and other attractions in the area.

Travel agents work closely with resorts and other specialty groups to arrange trips. Hotels and resorts run special promotions that are only available if you book with a travel agent. These packages provide generous discounts to travelers.

In addition to working with various travel groups, travel agents perform research through the Global Distribution System (GDS). The GDS contains helpful travel information about numerous areas. This includes some of the top hotel and airline information, as well as locations to rent vehicles. Most travel agents prepare alternative plans, just in case any last-minute changes or emergencies take place before the trip.

Job Environment

According to 2016 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) there were almost 82,000 travel agents working in the United States. Of that group, almost 80 percent worked with a travel agency or group, while the rest were self-employed. Some travel agents have their own office space, while others work in a call center.

Most travel agents work a traditional full-time schedule. The schedule changes depending on the time of year as well as the location. Travel agents in popular summer vacation destinations are naturally busier during this period, as more out of state visitors are planning to visit the state. Travel agents must be prepared to work additional hours to accommodate last-minute requests, especially if it is during peak vacation time.

Requirements and Qualifications

The requirements to become a travel agent change depending on the state. Compared to other professions, being a travel agent does not come with many educational requirements. At minimum, travel agents must have at least a high school diploma or an equivalent certification.

Travel agents who want to boost their resume and develop additional skills take college courses relating to travel planning. Vocation schools and community colleges have classes to help travel agents through tourism degrees.

Tourism courses teach future travel agents how to use reservation systems and covers important laws regarding international travel. These classes have sections on marketing, which is especially important for travel agents who want to work as freelancers. In some states, travel agents must pass a certification test before officially starting their careers.

Students who want to ensure they are cut out to become travel agents take the travel agency proficiency test. The test is available through the Travel Institute and covers all the necessary areas travel agents must know about.

Travel agents who want to build their experience can work as a certified travel associate instead of a travel agent. This is similar to working as an apprentice in other fields. After five years, experienced agents can become a certified travel counselor. This requires taking an additional certification course. Depending on the state, travel agents must renew their credentials every couple of years.

Income and Job Outlook

Calculating a salary for a travel agent is tricky. Salaries largely vary depending on whether the travel agent is specialized and if they work in an agency or independently. According to data from 2017, the average wage for travel agents was around $37,000 annually. It was higher for agents who were part of an agency or brokerage, jumping up to $42,000 annually. Specialized travel agents earned as much as $58,000 annually.

Due to an increase in travel websites, the demand for travel agents is not as high as previous years, but specialized travel agents retain a high number of clients. Many travelers still prefer a travel agent if they are planning a more involved trip, and corporations are more likely to work with a travel agency over a website.