How to Become a Travel Agent
As the weather grows warmer, our thoughts turn to exotic destinations and relaxing vacations. Just as January through April is a hectic time for accountants, April through June can be a busy time for travel agents as customers begin planning their summer vacations. You may have even given one a call recently. But have you thought about becoming an agent yourself?
As with most industries today, travel is a rapidly evolving business, and now is a perfect time to hop aboard, as the benefits of a career as a travel agent are better than ever.
The two main perks associated with being a travel agent are the salary and flexibility of the position.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay of travel agents in 2017 was $36,990 a year, or roughly $17.78 an hour. Additionally, the position is one that often allows agents to work from home, another benefit to most. Even if you end up in an office position, the steady, stable hours, with no work being brought home from the office with you, can still be a plus. Not only that but everywhere you go you’ll find people traveling. So you won’t be tied down to any one location; you should be able to find a job in the field no matter where you move.
It is also relatively easy to become a travel agent. Most positions within the industry require a high school diploma or GED and offer on-the-job training, so potentially a person could get started quickly. This makes becoming a travel agent a great job choice for someone who prefers a non-traditional education path, or who do not have the time, money or opportunity to go back to school to complete a degree. If you are good with people and enjoy interacting with them, you already have the primary skills required to be a phenomenal travel agent.
Finally, depending on the sector of travel you join, particularly if you work for an agency, you could be eligible for additional perks, such as discounted rates on flights, hotels and activities when you travel.
Sold on the idea of becoming a travel agent? Fantastic! Here are three steps to take that should get you on the right track.
#1: Find Your Goal/Focus
Before you begin applying for jobs, set a career goal for yourself. What kind of travel agent do you imagine yourself to be? Would you like to be an independent agent with your own agency, or do you prefer to work for an established agency? Do you have a particular area of travel, say cruises, that you feel especially interested in or qualified for?
Take a little time to do some research into the field so that you know what you’re drawn to. You’ll be a more attractive candidate if you come across as knowledgeable and enthusiastic.
Preparation will also make you more selective regarding which jobs you apply for, as you’ll know better from the get-go if a position is one you’re genuinely interested in.
Have in mind as well what kind of working environment works best for you. If you are the kind of person who needs structure, look for agency jobs that require you to come into a physical, brick and mortar building regularly. If you want room to make your own hours, either look for an agency that allows you to work from home, or consider becoming a free agent who either has his or her own business or is loosely associated with a larger, umbrella company.
#2. Education and Skills
As mentioned above, most agencies only require a high school diploma or GED. Additional education might make you stand out to prospective employers; however most won’t ask to see a college degree. Instead, they’ll be interested in your experiences and skills.
Things you should mention when applying for a job in travel include any exciting locations you may have visited, languages you speak, cultures you are familiar with and computer skills you possess. The last is especially important as much of a travel agent’s work today is computer based. So knowing how to type, how to use Microsoft Word, and how to efficiently search the internet will give you a leg up.
Also, since a travel agent is essentially a salesperson, any retail or customer service background you have should be mentioned.
If you are the kind of person who likes covering all their bases or wants to bulk up their resume with additional credentials, focus on classes, courses and certification programs that give you a travel or tourism background. Local community colleges and libraries often offer short series on different countries and cultures, and having more knowledge in these areas won’t hurt.
You can also find classes on various travel topics online for free through universities like Harvard, or through open online learning programs like Coursera. These programs usually give completion certificates free of charge, with more official documentation offered for a small fee.
You can also earn extra credibility by getting travel agent credentials, such as an International Airlines Travel Agent Network (IATAN) ID. You can get certified through IATAN in diverse travel fields, focusing on sea, land and air travel, or on different parts of the world. You can find these training programs like IATAN online, however, be careful: there are a lot of scammers out there.
If an online course seems too good to be true, offering a quick credential for a surprisingly low fee, proceed with caution. Again, these certificates are nice for making your resume stand out, but are rarely required. You may even get this training for free from an employer after you are hired.
The only time you really should invest in extra schooling to become a travel agent will be if you’re planning on starting your own agency. If you’d like to be the boss and run things, either because you have a vision or would prefer the extra flexibility of setting your own hours and rules, strongly consider taking business courses or getting a business degree as there will be a number of forms, taxes and licenses you’ll need to navigate to set yourself up.
If you choose not to go the degree route, but still want to start your own company, familiarize yourself with your province or state’s laws regarding travel agencies. Most are pretty lax, but there are those which will require you to to take exams or certified training courses, sometimes on a yearly basis.
#3: Getting the Job
Once you’ve decided what kind of agency you would like to work for, and what skills you have, begin applying to different agencies. As with any job, try to apply to as many places as possible. If you’re entirely new to the field of customer service and travel, don’t be picky about the jobs you apply for: get your foot in the door and chances are you can work your way up.
Starting as an assistant is a practical way to build experience so that when you are ready to move on to a full travel agent position you have a more impressive resume. While many companies will be willing to try you out fresh, plenty more will expect you to have some customer service or sales experience.
Another thing to consider when applying for jobs at agencies, especially if you do not have the background they’re asking for, is to set yourself up as a specialist. Think of an area of travel that you know best and market yourself as an expert for that sector. Instead of saying you know about traveling, tell potential employers that you are especially knowledgeable regarding the needs of seniors traveling abroad or have extensive experience with Middle Eastern travel.
There are endless sectors in the travel market, so think of an area connected to travel that you already know and focus on your expertise there. This will make your application stand out among all the others.
If your goal is to work with an agency, but you find yourself continuously striking out--especially if you’re striking out because of lack of experience--start networking among friends and family. Let it be known that you are looking for a travel job, and at the same time offer to help people coordinate their travel needs. By doing this, you may be able to tap into connections you didn’t even realize you had, and work on gaining needed experience at the same time.
You can also join a travel agency organization, like the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA). Doing this will unlock resources that can help your professional development, as well as connect you with job forums and network opportunities, all of which can lead you to land the job.
If you’re planning on going it yourself and starting your own travel agency, this is the point where you’ll begin planning and setting into motion your marketing strategy. You’ll decide who your target client base is, as well as your niche travel market.
While it is tempting to call yourself an agent and be open for all business, this approach will make you indistinguishable from hundreds of other agents, and make it hard for you to get the start you need.
If you market yourself as an agent specializing in European castle tours or North American airline travel, you can build up a name for yourself with a little more ease.
You can always take other travel-related jobs on the side, but it’s crucial that you create a strong, clear brand if you’re flying solo as a travel agent. Once you know who you are, determine your prices and budget and make sure all your forms and licenses are in order.
Becoming a travel agent can be a lucrative, stable career choice. Though you’ll have to invest some effort to get the job, either through the application processes or through some additional learning, overall the job offers numerous benefits for a position that does not require a college degree and often not even prior work experience or certification. For those looking for work now, who love travel and engaging with people, becoming a travel agent is a career choice worth investing in.