How to Be a Travel Agent
With an average yearly salary of $36,990, travel perks and the possibility of setting your own hours, it’s no wonder that many find a career as a travel agent an alluring one.
Add to that the satisfaction you’ll get by helping others on a regular basis, and the job becomes a no-brainer to many. But what exactly does a travel agent do?
The short answer is that a travel agent assists customers with their travel needs. However, how they assist their customers and what those travel needs will be varies greatly depending on if you’re an independent travel agent or working for a larger company.
Generally, clients will call travel agents looking for help getting to a planned destination. In these cases, the travel agent will help their customer find a ticket that fits in their budget and/or travel goal. They might also help with travel arrangements once the customer arrives at their destination, such as helping them find a place to stay, tours they can go on and transportation during their trip.
If this sounds like your goal in becoming a travel agent, you’ll want to make sure you’re keeping up to date on innovations in travel, changes in travel, and the latest technology.
For example, if there’s a new way to get from point A to point B, such as a new ferry that was until now non-existent, you’ll want to not only know that the ferry now exists, but also how it compares price-wise to other travel options to that destination.
You’ll also want to know if there are any changes in conditions and travel along your client’s route. Has an airline that usually allows a free bag suddenly added a fee? Have they switched up their times or routes? Are they offering specials that your customers can take advantage of?
Further, you’ll need to stay abreast of new technology, as your job will require you to not only use technology to do research for clients, but also for booking tickets. The software used for these functions is constantly changing as safer, more reliable travel programs are created. So keeping on top of industry technology updates will help keep you on top of your job, and the competition.
Travel agents might also be asked to help a client plan their vacations. In these cases, a client might call an agency looking for suggestions. They have time off or would like to go on a cruise, but don’t know where to start. When this happens, clients will call specific agencies or travel agents who specialize in a specific mode of travel or destination.
For example, if a person wants to go on a cruise, he or she might call an agency that specializes in tropical cruises. If they want to go on a Mediterranean tour, they might call an agent who advertises as a specialist in arranging trips to that region.
In the case of a travel agency or independent agent who specializes in an area, it’s important that the agent is someone who likes keeping up-to-date on all news regarding their area of expertise.
Your clients will expect you to know what’s going on in a particular place, as well as to be able to give them recommendations.
Customers might ask their travel agent to advise them on what sorts of clothing to pack, where they should eat, and if there are any political situations they should be aware of.
They’ll also appreciate information you can give them on local customs and color.
Both kinds of travel agents--general and specialized--will need to also be up-to-date and knowledgeable in current travel laws, especially those regarding cross-border travel. Especially in these times, with safety concerns and changing politics, it’s important to be aware of even small changes in regulations, as even these can have a large impact on your customers. A good travel agent will also know if travelers need any vaccines when they travel to different locations, or if specific medications will be needed.
Another vital job of a travel agent is to be able to help passengers rearrange their flights. In fact, some travel agents specialize in just that. It’s not unusual for weather, or human/mechanical failure to derail a customer’s trip. In these cases, a travel agent’s job is to keep calm and provide answers and solutions to harried customers. They’ll also help clients get refunds, and track down or replace lost or damaged items.
In all cases, a travel agent will be dealing with a certain amount of math.
Travel agents will be handling payment transfers, as well as calculating costs and comparing tickets and rates. Not great at math? That’s okay, as long as you know how to use programs that do the work for you. It’s worth familiarizing yourself in whichever programs your agency uses or the industry is currently using.
If you’re an independent who runs their own business, you will have more of this kind of work to contend with, as you’ll have to take care of bookkeeping, keep track of business records and the other necessary business permits and licenses that you need.
In terms of what the job of a travel agent looks like physically, today most of the work a travel agent does is done sitting or standing behind a computer and on the phone.
As is often in modern retail positions many travel agent jobs will take place in call centers or in offices. Travel agents can expect less and less face-time with clients as shopping trends shift more to over-the-phone and online transactions. Whereas once customers would walk into an agency and sit down with an agent to plan their vacation, today, a client will call or email an agent or agency to request assistance. Wearing comfortable clothes and shoes will be helpful on the job.
Because the job can be sedentary, a travel agent might want to consider different ways to help keep themselves active. Luckily, today there are many office innovations made especially for with this goal in mind. It’s worth investing in a desk that can be raised and lowered to allow for standing and sitting, and getting a headset that allows you to get up and move around as you speak to clients.
Finally, a travel agent will travel.
While this is not explicitly part of the job, you’ll want to travel yourself. Having experience traveling will make you a better agent as you’ll understand your customers more. You’ll know first hand what they’re experiencing when they come to you with complaints, and you’ll also pick up strategies for making travel more enjoyable.
You’ll also get to know the world better, and that knowledge will allow you to make more accurate--and appreciated--suggestions to your clients.
Ultimately, the career of travel agent comes with many benefits, and depending on how you plan on operating, you’ll be putting more or less work into the job.
Mainly, on the job, you’ll be working with people to plan their trips and make them realities, while at the same time remaining pleasant, organized and detail oriented.
If you’re a specialist you may have to do a little extra research to keep up with the competition, and if you’re going solo you’ll also have to make sure you’re keeping the proper records and business licenses up to date. No matter which path you choose, though, it should be fulfilling and fun as you help people navigate the world, exploring the endless possibilities travel offers.