Travel agents are professionals who are knowledgeable about travel planning. Agents work with travelers to find accommodations, flights, cars and other travel arrangements for international and domestic travel. Travel agents have access to special rates offered by hotels and airlines for discounted prices; they are often able to find the lowest prices for travelers. Trips that involve complex details and several connections are often handled by travel agents.
Salaries of travel agents vary depending upon experience, location and the demand for services. Reports from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics recorded 2008 average annual salaries to be $30,570. Out of this group, the middle 50% earned between $23,940 and $38,390. The 10th percentile earned less than $18,770, while the 90th percentile earned above $47,860 per year. Travel agents who were employed by larger companies and services earned an average of $30,470 in 2008.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
Travel agents who are employed by agencies or services received the best benefits, while self-employed travel agents were responsible for providing their own benefits. Most travel agents also enjoy an extra payment – discounts on travel. These agents receive special discounted rates with specific providers when they must travel for personal reasons. Another advantageous aspect of this profession is the ability to take vacations to provide information; some travel agents are paid to travel to certain places in order to experience them, providing reports after the trip.
Job Description and Outlook
When travelers search for their own travel information, they will likely have to visit many different websites to compare prices or find the arrangements they are looking for. Travel agents have databases with a plethora of information, allowing them to specifically search for precise criteria, offering quick results. Agents also have access to inside information about airfare sales, flights that are not fully booked, rental car specials and hotel discounts or promotions. Travel agents also assist clients who need to book a trip that is not a simple round-trip ordeal. Multi-city stops are easily booked by a travel agent. These professionals also offer their clients reasonably-priced and reliable travel insurance.
Travel agents must also be familiar with destinations, the customs, culture and other information that may be important for travelers to know. For example, a travel agent should advise travelers to Punta Cana to take bug spray, or travelers to countries with rigorous religious practices about their customs. Travelers who are unaware of important information such as this will rely on a travel agent to provide tips. Agents must also inform travelers of required vaccinations, passport regulations and other requirements for international or cruise travel. Most travel agents have access to information online about such subjects; they may simply print the information out and give it to clients before their departure. Some professionals may choose to specialize in a specific area of travel or specialize in a certain area of the world. Travel agents must keep good records of their revenue to report to the IRS. Accepting tips is discouraged for this reason; however many employers offer a commission and salary package, which usually yields good results in sales.
Training and Education Requirements
Most community colleges offer accredited on-campus or online courses related to travel agent duties. Some programs for travel agent studies also exist. Students will learn about marketing, management, accounting, communication, travel, foreign cultures and they may also choose to study a foreign language. Some colleges and universities offer an Associate degree in these studies, which is the most common degree sought, next to a certificate. A few colleges also offer a Bachelor or Master degree in travel and tourism; students usually choose a second language to earn a minor in during these programs. Travel agents who do not earn a degree will need to have experience and knowledge about travel and how to book travel arrangements. Knowledge about or experience traveling to certain places is helpful, as is having a second language.
While there is no universal certification or license for travel agents to earn, these professionals must earn the endorsement of airlines, hotels or other travel companies. Travel agencies must have at least one capable travel agent or manager and be financially stable in order to gain approval from travel providers. Classes taken at colleges for specific areas of specialty are also forms of certification; these will prove competence in specific areas for travel agents.
The American Society of Travel Agents is one of the most popular professional associations for travel agents. Current information about travel service providers is continually updated. Members will easily have a wealth of gathered knowledge with a few simple clicks. New travel service providers who enter the business will also be reported on, giving travel agents the advantage of contacting them early for approval. While current information is one good reason to join a professional association, another good reason is to gain access to a network of other professionals. Connecting with others, sharing information and learning are all advantages of membership in a professional association. Another popular association is the National Association of Career Travel Agents, designed for seasoned professional travel agents.