Is a Career as a Travel Agent Right for You?
Starting a career as a travel agent sounds like a lot of work—work that won’t pay off because everyone is booking online. However, not only is that incorrect, it could also prevent you from finding the career of your dreams. Is becoming a travel agent right for you? Let’s find out.
What is a Travel Agent?
A travel agent is someone who specializes in planning and booking vacation packages for clients. They can book airfare, hotels, car rentals, cruises, and other travel activities. A travel agent can also offer advice on what to do at a destination and ways to enjoy a trip.
What Does a Travel Agent Do?
Travel agents are responsible for researching and arranging travel packages for customers who are interested in booking them. They help clients choose flight and hotel options that best fit their travel plans. They will also help with travel insurance and provide great travel tips.
Their typical duties include:
- Marketing the business and their packages
- Creating or preparing promotional materials
- Answering customer queries and dealing with complaints
- Providing advice about passports, visas, and vaccinations
- Managing budgets for themselves and clients
- Maintaining financial and statistical records
- Meeting profit and sales targets every quarter
- Recruiting, training, onboarding, and supervising staff
- Planning vacations and their own schedule
- Selling insurance and holiday packages
Travel agents may have additional duties if they’re hired as freelancers. Freelancers have to run and manage their own businesses, which includes tasks like invoicing and preparing taxes.
Who Employs Travel Agents?
Tour operators, cruise lines, and package holiday operators are the typical employers of travel agents. Most agents enter the profession as a consultant or a clerk and eventually move into managerial positions. Independent agents may join a travel consortium or a host agency.
What Are Travel Consortiums?
A travel consortium is a collective of travel agencies, host agencies, and travel advisors that combine resources. This is done to increase their buying potential, commission levels, and benefits. They offer agents marketing, technology, training, education, and high commissions.
To join a travel consortium, agents need to reach a specific threshold with their preferred suppliers. They also have to pay a fee and shouldn’t need any back-end bookkeeping support. People who know how to work well as a team are more likely to thrive in a travel consortium.
What Are Travel Host Agencies?
A host agency to a travel agent is akin to what a real estate brokerage is to a real estate agent. Host agencies give travel agents access to better commissions, marketing and tech tools, and supplier relations. The most common business model for a host agency is a commission split.
This sounds a lot like a host agency, but the difference in the threshold for joining is a lot lower. The minute you start your career as a travel agent is the second you can apply for an agency. Another difference is that host agencies often make up a small part of any travel consortium.
Joining the right travel host agency when working as a travel agent can make all the difference in your success in the field. If you want to go this route, you’ll need to do your research.
What Qualifications or Training Do Travel Agents Need?
Travel agents don’t technically need a degree to be employed as agents. However, a degree in travel, languages, tourism, business studies, leisure, or management could give them an advantage. Previous experience in retail, sales, hospitality, or travel is also preferred.
A great employer will train you on-site, but it isn’t guaranteed. That’s why it’s a good idea to take an optional course that gets you up to speed. That experience improves your hiring chances.
To promote career success, travel agents need commercial awareness, numerical ability, good interpersonal skills, verbal communication skills, and the ability to speak multiple languages.
To start a career as a travel agent, you need to get accredited via an accreditation number. This process looks different depending on who or what organization they’re employed with.
When a travel agent joins the industry, they have 5 options:
- Get their own accreditation number and work independently
- Get their own accreditation number and join a travel consortium
- Join a host agency and use the host agency’s accreditation number
- Be employed by a travel franchise that requires agents to use their own numbers
- Be employed by a travel franchise that gives agents a new number
The accreditation you receive also depends if your business or your employer’s business is cruise or airline-focused. This article can help you make more sense of this system.
What is a Travel Agent’s Career Outlook?
It’s assumed that there’s no point in starting a career as a travel agent thanks to the internet. While the internet does give clients access to booking information, there’s still a high demand for travel agents. In fact, the job outlook for travel agents is 20%, much faster than average.
This job outlook is reported for the following reasons:
- Air ticket sales went up by 328% year over year.
- 75% of Americans would consider working with an agent to plan their vacations.
- 46% feel that working with a travel agent adds value to their trip
- Americans spend 23 hours on average booking flights by themselves.
- There are only 40,000 engaged independent and 31,190 employed travel agents in the United States, but 2.38 billion domestic and international flights are taken yearly.
As you can see, there simply aren’t enough travel agents to meet demand. If every agent served half the number of flights, each agent would have to complete 16,736 flights a year. As that isn’t possible, we need more professionals to train and become quality travel agents.
If a travel agent can prove that their services save the customer time and money, they’ll have plenty of customers. The most difficult part of this role is marketing your own services.
How to Know if You Should Start a Career as a Travel Agent
It’s clear that becoming a travel agent is still possible in our modern technological world. But how can you know if starting a career as a travel agent is right for you? Here’s how.
1. You Want Flexibility and Mobility
Providing flexible work hours is a surefire way to make employees happier, and travel agents always get that benefit. Since your primary role is to sell tickets and tour packages, it doesn’t matter when or where you do it. Any travel agent could complete their tasks from a computer.
2. You Want More Travel Opportunities
Clients want to hire travel agents that know what they’re talking about. As an agent, you’re basically required to take your skills on the road. If you work for a travel franchise, many of your expenses are paid for. If not, many destinations and hotels offer discounts to travel agents.
3. You Want to Become Your Own Boss
Travel agents, if they work as independent contractors, can be their own bosses. While this path can be difficult to navigate, it isn’t that much more risky than being an employee. Your income may be tight as a freelancer, especially when you start, but you can’t be fired or laid off.
4. You Want Limitless Earning Potential
On average, travel agents make $40,000 a year, but even in a traditional agent role, they can make as high as $75,000 per year. But as a freelancer, your earning potential is virtually limitless. Freelance travel agents could make 6 figures or more if they’re popular enough.
5. You Want a Variety of Job Options
While it’s true that travel agents primarily book flights for customers, they can choose which niche to serve. For example, you can become an African travel specialist, specifically book for cruise ship lines, or specialize in American vacations or theme parks, such as Disney World.
6. You Want to Start Right Away
Unlike many other careers, you don’t need specialty training to become a travel agent. So if you’re looking to jump into a new role right away, becoming a travel agent is a great option. You can also obtain accreditation for free through a travel franchise (but not if you’re independent).
7. You Want to Work Part-Time
Travel agents are easily able to work part-time and keep their primary jobs. The job is versatile enough that you can set your own hours around your other full-time role. This is great for a travel-specific role, as you’ll still have money coming in during off-seasons or travel slumps.
How to Know if You Shouldn’t Start a Career as a Travel Agent
For all its positives, becoming a travel agent also comes with some pitfalls. Don’t forget to consider the negatives, or you could end up in a job you hate. Here are 5 negatives to consider.
1. You Don’t Want a Demanding Job
While travel agents benefit from flexibility and mobility, they also have to deal with demanding clients. That’s the catch-22 of freelancing. Many clients will expect you to be available on a 24/7 basis. This can get complicated if you market your services to multiple international time zones.
2. You Don’t Want Poor Job Security
According to Gallup, 53% of employees want job security in their next role. If you’re a part of that statistic, then starting a career as a travel agent may not be for you. Since customers can easily book a flight themselves, your services aren’t necessary, but you can make it so.
3. You Don’t Want to Market Yourself
Travel agents prove to customers that their services are worthwhile through clever marketing tactics. However, you need to show clients you’re better or different from the competition. This requires a credible online presence, marketing skills, and a decent network of followers.
4. You Don’t Want a Customer-Facing Role
To sell travel packages and tickets, you need to be a people person. You’ll have to invest in sales training and negotiation tactics and be pleasant to be around. Constantly being around people can be stressful for some, especially when their livelihood relies on getting a sale.
5. You Don’t Want to Stress Over Lawsuits
Customers may sue travel agents on the grounds of misrepresentation if their trip doesn’t go as planned. This can ruin your reputation and potentially take you out of the travel agent game. Fortunately, you can purchase insurance that protects you from unlawful suits if they occur.
Thousands of people want to become travel agents to see the world, network with cool people, and be their own bosses. But, starting a career as a travel agent also comes with poor job security and stress. You’ll need to weigh the pros and cons of the role before making a decision.
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