How To Become a Travel Agent in 4 Steps (With Helpful Tips)
Despite the popularity of automated booking systems for vacations, travel agents are in demand for trips that require thoughtful planning and expertise. Travel agents ensure travel plans, such as activities and costs, receive a personalized touch while often providing clients with the best value for their money. Understanding the steps and requirements it takes to earn this role may help you begin your career and increase your chances of job success.
In this article, we explain what this role does and how to become a travel agent in four steps and answer some common questions about this career path.
What do travel agents do?
Travel agents help clients make travel arrangements or explore different travel package options. They may suggest accommodations or destinations, and they can help people arrange a travel itinerary. A travel agent can also book flights, hotels and reservations. Before travel agents can make travel arrangements, it's essential for them to learn about their clients, including a budget, schedule, ideal vacation and preferred travel method. For example, a travel agent who learns a client is afraid of flying may suggest a cruise instead.
Additionally, travel agents may field complex questions regarding national and international travel, such as helping clients understand the health and safety protocols airlines or countries are currently adhering to for travel. This role can often act as a buffer between the consumer and travel suppliers. A travel agent also has various duties that can change daily based on their client or agency work, but some typical responsibilities for this role include:
Negotiating hotel rates for clients
Helping clients create trip plans
Developing alternative travel plans when schedules change or client events arise
Determining travel costs and helping the client save money
Advising clients on activities in the area they're visiting
Informing clients about required travel documents, like passports
Discussing essential information with clients, such as requirements for crossing borders
How to become a travel agent
Here are some steps on how to become a travel agent:
1. Get formal training
Most travel agents require at least a high school diploma, but some college education can help you gain essential knowledge in areas such as tourism, best business practices, international affairs, travel insurance, strategy, finances and marketing. You can take courses at community colleges and earn an associate degree in travel or tourism. Additionally, you can enroll at a college or university and obtain a bachelor's degree in business management, which you may find beneficial if you plan to work as an independent contractor.
You could also pursue a travel agent certification to show your expertise to clients and potential travel agency employers. For example, The Travel Institute offers the Travel Agent Proficiency (TAP) test, which you can take to showcase your skills and qualifications. After a few years of experience, you can take additional exams with The Travel Institute or similar organizations to earn more advanced certifications, such as becoming a Certified Travel Associate (CTA). Other certifications can include:
American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA): ASTA has several certification courses with various topics, including negations, legal issues, project management and geoculture guides.
International Air Transport Association (IATA): IATA allows travel agents to plan and book clients on airlines for domestic and international travel.
Travel Industry Designator Service (TIDS): TIDS permits travel agents to schedule client vacations with travel suppliers, where the agent can receive a commission.
Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA): CLIA helps clients plan and schedule international cruise vacations.
Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.
2. Develop your interpersonal skills
Part of a travel agent's success depends on the ability to interact with others, whether by phone calls, emails or in-person meetings. Effective communication and interpersonal skills can help you gain and retain loyal clients, especially if you plan to work independently and not for a travel agency.
3. Research planning and budgeting techniques
As a travel agent, your clients depend on you to help them save the most money possible while they travel, so it's beneficial to research deals on hotels, cruises, flights or events. You can also call or email these establishments to ask if they're offering special prices or packages for specific travel dates.
If you work for an agency, you may receive on-the-job training that shows how to find the best deals for clients and make the best reservations for their value.
4. Grow your travel industry knowledge
Vacation spots and your clients' itinerary priorities can change over time, so it's useful to keep a current and growing knowledge of recent developments in the travel industry. It can also help to continue taking courses specifically designed to help you gain a deeper understanding of the tourism industry.
In addition to the TAP test, The Travel Institute offers courses in geography and itinerary planning to equip you with the knowledge for planning memorable trips for your clients. These courses can be helpful if you plan to specialize in one area of travel.
Frequently asked questions
How much money can travel agents make?
Travel agents earn a national average salary of $54,185 per year. The amount you earn can vary depending on your education, location, employer and experience level. Additional travel agent certifications may also make it easier to negotiate a higher salary.
For the most up-to-date salary information from Indeed, click on the link provided.
What's the job outlook for travel agents?
The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects the employment of travel agents to grow by 20% between 2021 and 2031. This growth average is faster than most occupations in the U.S. Despite this, the BLS projects an average of about 7,500 travel agent openings each year over the decade.
There was a decrease in travel job postings and an overall slowdown in tourism a couple of years ago. There has been an increase in demand for travel agents because events changed how people travel. It's vital for those in the travel industry to understand there are destinations with travel restrictions. Travelers may find it more helpful to book with experts, like travel agents, who already know the restrictions and updates to the health and safety protocols.
Do I need to specialize in any area of travel?
While it's not required to have a specialization, the travel industry recommends having one because it can help you differentiate yourself from other agents. Specializations can include becoming an expert in a specific location or travel style, which you can use to market yourself to travel agencies or on your own. Gaining expertise in a defined area can also help you build a loyal client base.
Here are some examples of travel agent specializations to consider:
Sustainable and eco-friendly travel
Romantic getaways, weddings or honeymoon travel
Related: 15 Jobs in the Tourism Industry
Do travel agents work for themselves?
Some travel agents work for travel agencies, but some may become highly specialized in their expertise and start their own travel businesses. If you decide to work as an independent agent, consider choosing a unique specialty in the field to focus on a specific target audience.
What skills are required for travel agents?
Several soft and technical skills can help you perform your job well in an agency or as an independent travel agent. Here are some technical skills you may find helpful as a travel agent:
Social media skills
Negotiation and sales
While technical skills may help you find success in your role, here are some soft skills you may find valuable to have:
Customer service abilities
Attention to detail
Written and verbal communication
Jobs similar to a travel agent
There are similar career options if you're interested in working in the travel industry but not necessarily becoming a travel agent. Here are a few related jobs to explore:
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