Travel Agent

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Introduction

Travel agents sell transportation, lodging, and admission to activities to those planning trips.

A travel trade association is made up of member organizations. For example, a group of tour bus or tour packaging companies will belong to a tour bus association. Other associations are comprised of tourism destinations, lodgings, and travel agents and are usually run as nonprofit operations. As membership in these associations is voluntary, the associations depend on membership dues to keep them going. The Executive Director is primarily charged with promoting the cause of the association and recruiting and retaining membership.

For example, an association of tour bus owners and tour packagers may prepare a campaign to recognize a national tour bus month, encouraging people to take a bus tour of various parts of the country. The association’s function includes compiling data on how many people take bus tours, how many days (on average) they spend on the tour, and how much money they spend (for the tour and such other items as meals, souvenirs, and attractions). They then use this information to prepare and distribute promotional and advertising materials for print and electronic media, showing the value of the members of this association for the local economy. They also come up with ideas that members can use to promote their “special” month.

This information may also be useful when a federal or local governmental body is considering legislation that would affect the members of the association. Someone from the association, either the Executive Director, the president, or chairman of the board of directors uses this information when discussing the proposed rules or regulations with elected officials and governmental staff members. Theoretically, nonprofit associations are not allowed to lobby members of Congress and some other elected officials, but they are allowed to discuss and explain the issues as the association sees it. To accomplish these goals, the Executive Director oversees the management, fund-raising, planning and budgeting, research, program development, communications and marketing, and human resources of the association.

The members have regular meetings and conferences with training seminars, exhibit booths, and social functions. The Executive Director must coordinate scheduling these meetings, speakers, hotel and transportation arrangements, exhibit space and rental, meals, spouse activities, and whatever else the members need at these gatherings.

Most associations also have one or more publications with articles about marketing, legal issues, industry news, and other items, so the Executive Director must have a staff to write, edit, and publish these papers or magazines. Membership directories, governmental rules and regulations, and other business practices may be published as a book and sold to members and nonmembers, providing another source of income to the association. With today’s reliance on the Internet, the association must also have a website and someone to manage it.

An auxiliary function of some associations is a scholarship program to help deserving students (or children of association members) study in this or a related field. To raise funds for these scholarships, the Director might promote and coordinate such events as a golf tournament or a trip abroad to meet with foreign associations with similar interests or to discuss how foreign operations are different or similar to theirs.

Some associations may use the services of an Executive Director on a part-time basis, and some association executives work for more than one association at a time. As a travel-related association, there can be an extensive amount of travel involved, visiting various members across the country and attending industry conferences.

What Travel Agents Do

Travel agents offer advice on destinations, plan trip itineraries, and make travel arrangements for clients.

Travel agents sell transportation, lodging, and admission to entertainment activities to individuals and groups planning trips. They offer advice on destinations, plan trip itineraries, and make travel arrangements for clients. 

Duties

Travel agents typically do the following:

  • Arrange travel for business and vacation customers
  • Determine customers’ needs and preferences, such as schedules and costs
  • Plan and arrange tour packages, excursions, and day trips
  • Find fare and schedule information
  • Calculate total travel costs
  • Book reservations for travel, hotels, rental cars, and special events, such as tours and excursions
  • Tell clients about what their trip will be like, including giving details on required documents, such as passports or visas
  • Give advice about local weather conditions, customs, and attractions
  • Make alternative booking arrangements if changes arise before or during the trip

Travel agents help travelers by sorting through vast amounts of information to find the best possible travel arrangements. In addition, resorts and specialty travel groups use travel agents to promote travel packages to their clients.

Travel agents also may visit destinations to get firsthand experience so that they can make recommendations to clients or colleagues. They may visit hotels, resorts, and restaurants to evaluate the comfort, cleanliness, and quality of the establishment. However, most of their time is spent talking with clients, promoting tours, and contacting airlines and hotels to make travel arrangements. Travel agents use a reservation system called a Global Distribution System (GDS) to access travel information and make reservations with travel suppliers such as airlines or hotels.

Travel agents increasingly are focusing on a specific type of travel, such as adventure tours. Some may cater to a specific group of people, such as senior citizens or single people. Other travel agents primarily make corporate travel arrangements for employee business travel. Some work for tour operators and are responsible for selling the company’s tours and services.

Work Environment

Travel agents work in an office environment where they spend much of their time on the phone.

Travel agents held about 73,300 jobs in 2012. Travel agents work in offices, where they spend much of their time on the phone and on the computer. In some cases, busy offices or call centers may be noisy and crowded. Agents may face stress during travel emergencies or unanticipated schedule changes.

In 2012, 83 percent of all travel agents worked for the travel arrangement and reservation services industry, which includes those who work for travel agencies. In addition, 12 percent of travel agents were self-employed.

Work Schedules

Most travel agents work full time. Some work longer hours during peak travel times or when they must accommodate customers’ schedule changes and last-minute needs.

How to Become a Travel Agent

A high school diploma typically is required for someone to become a travel agent. However, many employers prefer additional formal training as well. Good communication and computer skills are essential.

Education

Employers may prefer candidates who have taken classes related to the travel industry. Many community colleges, vocational schools, and industry associations offer technical training or continuing education classes in professional travel planning. Classes usually focus on reservations systems, regulations regarding international travel, and marketing. In addition, a few colleges offer degrees in travel and tourism.

Good communication and computer skills are essential for travel agents.

Training

Employers in the travel industry always provide some on-the-job training on the computer systems used in the industry. For example, a travel agent could be trained to work with a reservation system used by several airlines.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Some associations offer certifications that may help travel agents once they are on the job. The Travel Institute, for example, provides training and professional development opportunities for experienced travel agents. Examinations for different levels of certification are offered, depending on a travel agent’s experience. Certification for airlines or cruise lines is available from associations such as the International Airline Transport Association’s Training and Development Institute and the Cruise Lines International Association.

Some states require agents to have a business license to sell travel services. Requirements among states vary greatly. Contact individual state licensing agencies for more information.

Other Experience

Some agencies prefer travel agents with firsthand experience visiting a country. These agencies especially prefer travel agents who specialize in specific destinations or particular types of travelers, such as groups with a special interest or corporate travelers.

Important Qualities

Adventurousness. Travel agencies that specialize in exotic destinations or particular types of travel, such as adventure travel or ecotourism, may prefer to hire travel agents who share these interests.

Communication skills. Travel agents must listen to customers, understand their travel needs, and offer appropriate travel advice and information.

Customer-service skills. When customers need to make last-minute changes in their travel arrangements, travel agents must be able to respond to questions and complaints in a friendly and professional manner.

Detail oriented. Travel agents must pay attention to details in order to ensure that the reservations they make match travelers’ needs. They must make reservations at the correct dates, times, and locations to meet travelers’ schedules. 

Organizational skills. Travel agents should have strong organizational skills because they often work on itineraries for many customers at once. Keeping client information in order and ensuring that bills and receipts are processed in a timely manner is essential.

Sales skills. Travel agents must be able to persuade clients to buy transportation, lodging, or tours. Sometimes they might need to persuade tour operators, airline staff, or others to take care of their clients’ special needs. Earnings for many travel agents depend on commissions and service fees.

Pay

The median annual wage for travel agents was $34,600 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $19,930, and the top 10 percent earned more than $57,400. These wage data include money earned from commissions.

Most travel agents work full time. Some work longer hours during peak travel times or when they must accommodate customers’ schedule changes and last-minute needs.

Job Outlook

Employment of travel agents is projected to decline 12 percent from 2012 to 2022.

Clients who want customized travel experiences, such as adventure tours, will continue to require the expertise of agents. However, the ability of travelers to use the Internet to research vacations and book their own trips is expected to continue to suppress demand for travel agents.

Job Prospects

Job prospects should be best for travel agents who specialize in specific destinations or particular types of travelers, such as groups with a special interest or corporate travelers.

Employment projections data for travel agents, 2012-22
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2012 Projected Employment, 2022 Change, 2012-22 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Travel agents

41-3041 73,300 64,400 -12 -8,900 [travel agent job outlook.xls]
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