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Travel Agent Career Guide

What is a travel agent?

Travel agents help their clients by simplifying the process of booking flights, cruises, rental cars, sightseeing tours, hotels, resorts, and more. They also provide valuable information about destinations, make dining recommendations, suggest sights to see and things to do based on the client’s preferences, advise clients on travel insurance, and create enticing travel packages for clients. 

Travel agents serve individuals, families, groups, companies, and others. They may specialize in one segment of the industry, such as cruises or business trips. They may also only handle leisure travel, or trips to specific locations, such as Europe, Asia, or the Caribbean.

These individuals must be personable as they deal with a wide range of clients. Their goal is to make the experience of travel planning as easy as possible for their clients and ensure that they have the best vacation or business trip experience possible. 

Travel agents use their expertise and research to help clients determine the best travel destinations, based on their travel objectives, and to provide the best transportation arrangements and accommodations to fit the needs of the client. They should be familiar with different types of travel and with the travel destinations they recommend. Many travel agents use their own experiences when consulting with clients on locations, dining, sightseeing, and more. 

These agents need good communication skills as they work directly with clients, airlines, cruise lines, resorts, rental companies, and others. They need good research skills to find the best places to stay that fit the client’s budget. They need to be aware of weather conditions, travel advisories, safety concerns, and required documents that clients will need for their trips. 

Although travel agents work year-round, they are typically busiest during the summer months and holidays. In their downtime, they research new vacation destinations and stay up-to-date on hotels, resorts, and locations.

Qualifications and eligibility

Most travel agencies require a high school diploma or a GED. However, many employers prefer an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in hospitality, business, tourism, or a related field. There are online platforms like Udemy that have multiple classes to help you break into the travel sector. Obtaining a college degree can also be very helpful because it can give you a foundation in finances, marketing, organization, and strategy which are important for these professionals. This is especially true for those looking to start their own business. A college degree can also help you stand out from other candidates when pursuing a job that doesn’t require one.

You can also pursue a certification, such as the Certified Travel Associate (CTA), Certified Travel Counselor (CTC), or Certified Travel Industry Executive (CTIE), through The Travel Institute. This is a great opportunity to set yourself apart from others. If you want to become a travel agent, The Travel Institute is where you should start. 

Some colleges and universities also offer tourism certificates. Experience in marketing, hospitality, or a related industry can also be helpful. 

The Travel Institute also administers the Travel Agent Proficiency (TAP) test, which has no eligibility requirements and is good for those with no experience. 

Another certificate that’s beneficial is for cruises. The Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) offers four levels of certification: Certified Cruise Counselor (CCC), Accredited Cruise Counselor (ACC), Master Cruise Counselor (MCC), and Elite Cruise Counselor (ECC). Each level requires a certain amount of training and product knowledge. This is a certificate required for travel agents who are planning to schedule cruises.

These individuals need to be computer literate and have excellent time management and customer service skills. They need to be organized and able to work independently. They should have a good familiarity with major domestic and foreign travel destinations and exceptional phone skills.

Work environment

Travel agents typically work in offices, which can also be a home office. They spend much of their day sitting at a desk in front of a computer, making reservations, consulting with clients, and researching travel destinations. Some individuals, including most independent agents, work exclusively out of their own homes.

Typical work hours

Most travel agents work full-time during normal business hours. They might work longer hours, including weekends, during the busy seasons, or when handling last-minute deals. Self-employed agents tend to work longer hours than those who work for agencies or membership organizations. 

Types of travel agents

Travel agents vary according to the type of service they provide and the products they offer. The main types include:

Leisure Travel Agents

These travel agents cater to individual, family, and group travel. They often include customized travel packages, set itineraries, accommodations, and guided tours and excursions per customers’ preferences.

Business Travel Agents

Business travel agents specialize in planning and booking travel for business travelers and tend to offer “corporate” discounts to clients.  

Niche Travel Agents

These agents provide specialized experiences for travelers who don’t want to follow the crowds. Popular niche tourism categories include ecotourism, agritourism, cultural tourism, health and wellness tourism, cruise tourism, and many more. 

Wholesale Travel Agents

Wholesale travel agencies buy travel products in bulk from airlines, hotels, and transportation companies and sell them to retail travel agencies.

Independent Travel Agents

An independent travel agent is self-employed. Most of these agents work from home. 

Online Travel Agents

Online travel agencies are very popular because they provide a way for travelers to easily research flights, rental cars, hotels, sightseeing tours, etc., making it easier for them to book complex travel itineraries.

Income potential

The income potential for a travel agent can vary greatly by specialty, location, experience, education, and whether you work independently or in an agency. 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual wage for travel agents was $43,810 in May 2021. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $28,280, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $74,220.

States with the highest salaries:

  • Tennessee – $95,532
  • Hawaii – $94,327
  • Minnesota – $94,238

The highest-paying cities are Long Island City, NY ($69,126 per year), Woodland Hills, CA ($68,243 per year), and Charlotte, NC ($66,288 per year).

States with the lowest salaries:

  • Florida – $67,446
  • North Carolina – $67,221
  • Georgia – $62,737

Some agents work part-time. A part-time travel agent can average $18-$20 an hour. How much you can make a week as a part-time agent can vary greatly depending on your location, whether you work for an agency or independently, and your experience.

Position trends

Per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, below are the occupational outlook for travel agents (SOC code 39-9031):

  • 2021 Median Pay: $ $43,810 per year ($21.06 per hour)
  • Number of Jobs, 2020: 60,500
  • Job Outlook, 2020-30: 5% increase (slower than average)
  • Employment Change, 2020-30: 33,000 increase 

The job outlook for travel agents is projected to grow 5 percent from 2020 to 2030, with about 7,500 job openings per year. This is slower than the average for all occupations.

Career path

There are many different paths you can take to become a travel agent. If you have a passion for travel and enjoy helping people plan their dream vacations, this career might be a good fit for you. The best career path for you will depend on your interests and experience. 

The career path to becoming a travel agent begins with a high school diploma, GED, or equivalent. Note that many employers prefer those who have a college degree or have taken classes related to the travel industry. Classes are available at community colleges, vocational schools, and industry associations. 

If you have no experience, the Travel Agent Proficiency (TAP) test, administered by The Travel Institute, has no eligibility requirements and can be helpful in demonstrating your competence.

Once you have gained experience, you can get further training and professional certification from The Travel Institute. They offer different levels of certification depending on your experience. 

The Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) offers similar levels of certification specifically for individuals working in the cruise industry. 

Another Home Study course is offered by The International Travel Institute. Most travel agencies provide some on-the-job training where you can learn how to use the computer software used in the industry. 

Travel agents with experience, formal training, and certifications can take on greater responsibilities, such as advancing to become an office manager or moving into other managerial positions.

Steps to becoming a travel agent

1. Earn a high school diploma

To become a travel agent, you will generally need a high school diploma or its equivalent.

2. Find your niche

Deciding on what type of travel agent you’re interested in becoming allows you to have a better grasp of what you need to do to get there. If you want to specialize in international travel, do your research and familiarize yourself with destinations your clients will likely want to travel to. If you are interested in cruise vacations, get familiar with the cruise industry. 

3. Take online courses

You can choose from a number of online courses that offer training to become a travel agent. They typically take about six months to complete and teach you everything you need to know to get started in the industry. 

The Travel Institute is one of the most respected names in the travel industry and offers 8 basic courses and 4 advanced courses that lead to a Certified Travel Associate (CTA) certificate.

Many websites offer training courses for travel agents, and some courses are free. Some of the top websites for training are:

Several colleges also offer online courses, including:

4. Get a degree

While not a requirement, a college degree can be very helpful in landing a job as a travel agent. Popular majors include:

  • Travel
  • Tourism
  • Business
  • Business Administration
  • Economics
  • Hospitality

5. Determine where you want to work

Are you interested in working for a travel agency or do you want to start your own? Do you want to work independently? The answer will determine your path to becoming a travel agent.

6. Get on-the-job training

Many travel agencies will hire agents who have little or no experience, or experience in a different type of travel agency, and train them on the job. This is a great way to get hands-on experience in the specific type of travel agency you want to work with. 

If you plan on starting a travel agency, find out what the rules are to start a travel agency in the state you live in. In California, Florida, Hawaii, Iowa, and Washington, you’ll need to register with the state department first. 

7. Get certified

Although there is no requirement to be certified as a travel agent, getting certification shows that you have the interest, dedication, proven skills, and knowledge needed to succeed in the industry. There are a number of available certification programs, and many specialize in a particular travel area, such as cruise ship tourism or international travel. The top certifications include: 

  • ASTA Verified Travel Advisor – offered by the American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA). The ASTA Verified Travel Advisor® certification program provides a high level of verifiable professional knowledge to the advanced sellers of travel and proves all their proficiency, professionalism, and dedication to the industry.
  • The Travel Institute offers 3 levels of certification, which is a great way to prove that you’re the best agent in the business. The Travel Institute is nationally recognized among agents. Their three levels are:
  • Global Travel Professional (GTP) – Offered by the Global Business Travel Association, this certification focuses on business travel management.  
  • The Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) offers several certifications for those who work as cruise line travel agents or who are interested in becoming one. A prerequisite for these certifications is an active CLIA Individual Agent Member (IAM) membership.
    • Certified Cruise Counselor (CCC) – The CCC is an entry-level certification for those looking to work in the cruise industry or for those transitioning from another type of travel agent role. 
    • Accredited Cruise Counsellor (ACC) – You don’t have to have a CCC credential to earn your ACC, but the requirements are more stringent. 
    • Master Cruise Counsellor (MCC) – To be eligible for the MCC, you must have completed your ACC certification. 
    • Elite Cruise Counsellor (ECC) – You will need an MCC certification to qualify for the ECC credential. 
    • Travel Agency Executive (TAE) – The TAE is a management-level certification program for travel agents who work as executives, directors, accounting managers, marketing managers, e-commerce managers, or in other leadership roles. 

Tips for becoming a travel agent

If you are interested in becoming a travel agent, you probably already have a love for travel and a passion for helping others. Here are a few helpful tips:

Learn on the job 

On-the-job training is a great way to learn about the travel agent business. Get your foot in the door at a travel agency and you can pick up valuable experience that will carry you to the next level.

Brush up on your communication skills

As part of the job, travel agents rely heavily on their ability to communicate and form relationships. Excellent communication skills are an essential part of this. 

Stay current

Attend informational webinars, meetings, and travel conferences to stay abreast of the latest trends in travel, especially in your specialization. Events and conferences are also good places to mingle with experienced travel agents, pick up some valuable information, find out what’s working for them, and learn new ideas and strategies.  

Travel agent FAQs