If you want to work in the tourism industry, you might consider working as a travel agent. Travel agents, also known as travel consultants or travel managers, are responsible for helping individual and business travelers plan and arrange their trips to destinations. While there are no specific requirements to become a travel agent, a certification along with a bachelor's degree opens more job opportunities and makes you more marketable.
In this article, we'll discuss what a travel agent certification is, what are the requirements to earn one and which third-party organizations offer certifications.
What is a travel agent certification?
A travel agent certification is a document certifying that a travel agent has taken a specific course of training. It is usually issued to travel agents who have passed an exam or completed a training program that prepares them for jobs with cruise lines, airlines, travel agencies, corporate travel departments and tour companies. Travel agent certification options range from entry-level to advanced professional.
Do travel agents need to be certified?
Travel agents are not required to hold a certificate or license, but most employers prefer candidates who have completed some formal training in tourism, travel or a related field. Many agencies also require candidates to have a degree in business or liberal arts from an accredited college or university.
Some states require travel agents to register with the state where they work. This process typically involves filling out a registration form, paying a fee and getting a registration number that travel agents are required to display at their place of business.
While it may not be required, travel agents usually get “errors and omissions” insurance, a form of professional liability insurance that protects them against claims of negligent actions or inadequate work.
How to earn a travel agent certification
Certification increases your job opportunities. Here are a few ways to earn a travel agent certification:
- Complete a certificate program
- Earn an associate degree
- Complete a hospitality industry course
- Complete an itinerary planning course
- Complete an international travel course
- Complete an online travel agent course
1. Complete a certificate program
If you want to enroll in educational programs, there are several options to choose from. Certificate programs are available at technical schools, universities, community colleges and other institutions. These programs typically include coursework in relevant subjects, including the following:
- Business communications
- Tourism sales and marketing
- Computer reservations systems
- Introduction to hospitality
- Introduction to the tourism and travel profession
A travel agent certificate program is typically a one-semester program that focuses specifically on the duties and responsibilities of travel agents. Some tourism or travel certificate programs may offer the opportunity to complete an internship or other experience, which can be valuable to you because it allows you to work with seasoned professionals in the industry and see how online reservation systems are used in real-life situations. You may also become familiar with some of the popular travel destinations and learn how to sell those travel packages to customers.
A certificate program also helps you develop the following skills:
- Customer service skills: As a travel agent, you have to sell your value to potential clients, then you have to be professional and helpful in meeting the needs of clients in order to expand your client base.
- Computer savvy: Research, booking and communication with destinations, airlines and more are all done online. You must be adept at using computers and online research to complete your duties as a travel agent.
- Problem-solving skills: Some travel plans are complicated, which means you need to be creative to meet the needs of the clients. Also, weather-related delays and other unforeseeable factors sometimes require you to make adjustments on the date of travel.
- Negotiating skills: If you work with a lot of the same resorts, hotels or other travel destinations, you have to negotiate deals for your clients. Being able to find the best deals while still meeting clients' needs is an important skill to have.
2. Earn an associate degree
You may also complete an associate degree to earn a certificate. An associate degree in tourism and travel is more comprehensive and can lead to other careers than as a travel agent. You can, however, benefit from the greater scope of tourism and travel concepts that are taught in two-year degree programs. Instead of concentrating on the duties and responsibilities of a travel agent, an associate degree program in travel and tourism teaches you how the tourism industry operates. The program usually includes the following courses:
- International travel and tourism
- Travel management
- Hospitality information systems
- Tourism planning and development
- Hospitality operations
3. Complete a hospitality industry course
Another way to earn certification is by completing a hospitality industry course. This course provides you with a wide overview of the travel industry. Coursework usually includes branding, sales and reservations technologies, the influence of food and beverage services and the history of the hospitality industry.
4. Complete an itinerary planning course
This course allows you to develop your skills in planning a travel itinerary. The curriculum of the course focuses on finding flight availability and providing packages with hotels and cars.
5. Complete an international travel course
This course allows you to understand the issues related to international travel. Topics of the study include making international reservations, currency exchanges and U.S. customs procedures.
6. Complete an online travel agent course
Online travel agent courses are part of diploma programs that prepare you for national travel agent certification. You can complete many of these courses fully online. Depending on the school, you can complete the course in six months or less. After completion, you can apply for entry-level jobs as travel agents.
List of travel agent certifications
Here's a look at some of the travel agent certifications:
- Certified Travel Associate (CTA) Certification
- Certified Travel Counselor (CTC) Certification
- Certified Travel Industry Executive (CTIE) Certification
- ASTA Verified Travel Advisor (VTA) Certification
- Certified Cruise Counselor (CCC) Certification
- Accredited Cruise Counselor (ACC) Certification
- Master Cruise Counselor (MCC) Certification
- Elite Cruise Counselor (ECC) Certification
Certified Travel Associate (CTA) Certification
Offered by the Travel Institute, the CTA certification is issued to travel agents who completed the training program. To qualify for the training program, you must have at least 18 months of full-time industry experience or 12 months with the completion of the Travel Agent Proficiency (TAP) test (a two-hour proctored test that consists of 100 multiple-choice questions). The training program includes courses about office skills, consumer-focused professionalism and specialized travel sales techniques. It also includes electives with options that range from time management to sales of specialized travel packages.
Certified Travel Counselor (CTC) Certification
Also offered by the Travel Institute, the CTC certification is issued to agents who have completed the six-month training program. To qualify for the program, you need to have at least five years of experience and a CTA certification. The courses included in the training program focus on consumer relationships and marketing, and classes discuss effective presentation tactics, productive management of office politics and the development of marketing strategies. To keep the certification, you must complete relevant continuing education.
Certified Travel Industry Executive (CTIE) Certification
Also offered by the Travel Institute, the CTIE certification is issued to agents who have completed the certification course. To qualify for this program, you must have a CTC certification and at least five years of experience within the field. Courses included in the program cover advanced elements of travel business management, and topics include marketing management, bookkeeping, mutually beneficial conflict resolution and the logistics of travel law. You have up to 18 months to complete the program.
ASTA Verified Travel Advisor (VTA) Certification
Offered by the American Society of Travel Agents, the ASTA Verified Travel Advisor (VTA) certification program broadens your knowledge about the legal and ethical issues and boosts consumer trust. The program consists of nine courses, including the legal overview for the travel agency industry, ethics for travel advisors, the U.S. travel agency regulatory compliance and the agency relationships and law. The curriculum of the program includes a deep dive into the code of ethics of ASTA.
There's a fee to participate in the VTA certification program. If you are an ASTA, you'll have to pay $399. If you are a nonmember, independent travel agent (e.g., home-based agent or independent contractor), you'll have to pay $598. If you are a non-member who works for large travel agencies and hosts, you'll need to pay a $729 fee. The fee for nonmembers includes a one-year ASTA membership. To maintain your VTA certification, you will need to renew your membership every year.
Majority of the courses that ASTA offers take 60 to 90 minutes to completes and consist of an online video, manual and examination. Once you have passed each course exam, you will receive a certificate of completion. The VTA certificate will be awarded once you have successfully completed nine courses.
Certified Cruise Counselor (CCC) Certification
Offered by the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the CCC certification is designed for travel agents who want to specialize in cruising. To qualify for this certification, you need to be an active Individual Agent Member (IAM) and must remain active during the completion period of the certification program. You have one year from the date of registration to meet the certification requirements and submit documentation. Once you have obtained the CCC credential, your CLIA-IAM membership status should be active to maintain the certification. If you have a membership lapse, you are required to pay a reinstatement fee.
Accredited Cruise Counselor
Also offered by the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the ACC certification is issued to CLIA affiliated agents. To qualify for this certification, you must be an active IAM. You have two years from the date of registration to complete the certification requirements, which include the following:
- Forty credits in CLIA online or live courses or seminars
- Eighty credits from electives, which include completion of accredited CLIA Cruise Line, Executive Partner or Industry Training Programs, complete attendance at a CLIA Live Training event and achievement of The Travel Institute's CTA designation
You have two years from the date of registration to complete the certification requirements and submit documentation. Once you have obtained the ACC credential, you are required to maintain an active CLIA IAM status to maintain your designation. If you have a membership lapse, you have to pay a reinstatement fee.
Master Cruise Counselor (MCC) Certification
This is another certification offered by the CLIA. To obtain this certification, you must have an ACC certification. You must also complete the mandatory training (40 credits), elective training (90 credits) and product knowledge (ship Inspections, personal cruise experiences and stateroom sales). To maintain this certification, you must maintain active CLIA IAM status. You need to pay a reinstatement fee if you have a membership lapse.
Elite Cruise Counselor (ECC) Certification
In order to qualify for this certification, you must be an active IAM. You must also have completed the Accredited Cruise Counselor (ACC) credential. You have two years to meet the certification requirements. Also, you are required to earn credits from the following:
- Online Courses, live seminars or certificate programs
- A CLIA certificate program
- Elective Training (50 credits)
- Product Knowledge (e.g. ship inspections, personal cruise experiences and stateroom sales)
As with other CLIA certifications, you must maintain active IAM status to maintain your designation. If you have a membership lapse, you may need to pay a reinstatement fee.