Occupation Profile for Travel Agents

Plan and sell transportation and accommodations for travel agency customers. Determine destination, modes of transportation, travel dates, costs, and accommodations required.

 
 

Significant Points

  • Travel benefits, such as reduced rates for transportation and lodging, attract people to this occupation.
  • Training at a postsecondary vocational school, college, or university is increasingly important.
  • Travel agents increasingly specialize in specific destinations or by type of travel or traveler.

 

 
 
Overview
$29,210.00 Median Annual Wage 1,000 Average Job Openings Per Year
3.8 Average Unemployment Percentage 25.2 Percentage That Completed High School
101,000 Employment Numbers in 2006 48.7 Percentage That Had Some College
102,000 Employment Numbers in 2016 (est.) 26.1 Percentage That Went Beyond College Degree

Sample Job Titles
Auto Travel Counselor
Corporate Travel Agent
Tour Agent
Tour Coordinator
Travel Agent
Travel Consultant
Travel Coordinator
Travel Counselor

Training
  • These occupations usually involve using communication and organizational skills to coordinate, supervise, manage, or train others to accomplish goals. Examples include funeral directors, electricians, forest and conservation technicians, legal secretaries, interviewers, and insurance sales agents.
  • Most occupations in this zone require training in vocational schools, related on-the-job experience, or an associate's degree. Some may require a bachelor's degree.
  • Previous work-related skill, knowledge, or experience is required for these occupations. For example, an electrician must have completed three or four years of apprenticeship or several years of vocational training, and often must have passed a licensing exam, in order to perform the job.
  • Employees in these occupations usually need one or two years of training involving both on-the-job experience and informal training with experienced workers.

A love of travel and knowledge and enthusiasm for advising people about travel destinations and itineraries are important traits for a travel agent to have. Superb communication and computer skills are essential for talking with clients and making travel reservations.

Education and training. The minimum requirement for those interested in becoming a travel agent is a high school diploma or equivalent; although many travel agencies prefer applicants who have a college degree and business or travel experience. Much of the training is provided on the job, a significant part of which consists of instruction on how to use reservation systems.

Training specific to becoming a travel agent is available at the many vocational schools that offer full-time travel agent programs leading to a postsecondary vocational award. Travel agent courses also are offered in public adult education programs, online, and in community colleges. These programs teach students about cruise lines and sales techniques and how to use the reservations systems. They also provide general information about travel destinations. A few colleges offer bachelor’s or master’s degrees in travel and tourism. Some employers prefer agents who have backgrounds in computer science, geography, communication, foreign languages, or world history, because these backgrounds suggest an existing interest in travel and culture and help agents develop a rapport with clients. Courses in accounting and business management also are important, especially for those who expect to manage or start their own travel agencies. Continuing education is critical because the abundance of travel information readily available through the Internet and other sources has resulted in a more informed consumer who wants to deal with an expert when choosing a travel agent.

Other qualifications. Travel agents must be well-organized, accurate, and detail-oriented in order to compile information from various sources and to plan and organize their clients’ travel itineraries. Agents also must be professional and courteous when dealing with travel representatives and clients. Other desirable qualifications include good writing and interpersonal skills and sales abilities.

Personal travel experience is an asset because knowledge about a city or foreign country often helps influence a client’s travel plans. Business experience or training increasingly is important because agents need to know how to run a business profitably. As the Internet has become an important tool for making travel arrangements, more travel agencies use websites to provide their services to clients. This trend has increased the importance of computer skills in this occupation.

Certification and advancement. Some employees start as reservation clerks or receptionists in travel agencies. With experience and some formal training, they can take on greater responsibilities and eventually assume travel agent duties. In agencies with many offices, travel agents may advance to busier offices or to office manager or other managerial position.

Those who start their own agencies generally have experience in an established agency. These agents must gain formal approval from suppliers or corporations, such as airlines, ship lines, or rail lines to extend credit on reservations and ensure payment. The Airlines Reporting Corporation and the International Airlines Travel Agency Network, for example, are the approving bodies for airlines. To gain approval, an agency must be financially sound and employ at least one experienced manager or travel agent.

The National Business Travel Association offers three types of designations for corporate travel professionals—Corporate Travel Expert, Certified Corporate Travel Executive, and Global Leadership Professional.

Experienced travel agents can take advanced self-study or group-study courses from the Travel Institute, leading to the Certified Travel Counselor designation. The Travel Institute also offers marketing and sales skills development programs and destination specialist programs, which provide detailed knowledge of regions such as North America, Western Europe, the Caribbean, and the Pacific Rim. With the trend toward more specialization, these and other destination specialist courses are increasingly important.

Nature of Work

Travel agents help travelers sort through vast amounts of information to help them make the best possible travel arrangements. They offer advice on destinations and make arrangements for transportation, hotel accommodations, car rentals, and tours for their clients. They are also the primary source of bookings for most of the major cruise lines. In addition, resorts and specialty travel groups use travel agents to promote travel packages to their clients.

Travel agents are also increasingly expected to know about and be able to advise travelers about their destinations, such as the weather conditions, local ordinances and customs, attractions, and exhibitions. For those traveling internationally, agents also provide information on customs regulations, required papers (passports, visas, and certificates of vaccination), travel advisories, and currency exchange rates. In the event of changes in itinerary in the middle of a trip, travel agents intercede on the traveler’s behalf to make alternate booking arrangements.

Travel agents use a variety of published and computer-based sources for information on departure and arrival times, fares, quality of hotel accommodations, and group discounts. They may also visit hotels, resorts, and restaurants themselves to evaluate the comfort, cleanliness, and the quality of specific hotels and restaurants so that they can base recommendations on their own experiences or those of colleagues or clients.

Travel agents who primarily work for tour operators and other travel arrangers may help develop, arrange, and sell the company’s own package tours and travel services. They may promote these services, using telemarketing, direct mail, and the Internet. They make presentations to social and special-interest groups, arrange advertising displays, and suggest company-sponsored trips to business managers.

Agents face increasing competition from travel and airline websites for low-cost fares, but travelers still prefer using travel agents who can provide customized service and planning for complex itineraries to remote or multiple destinations. To attract these travelers, many travel agents specialize in specific interest destinations, travel to certain regions, or in selling to particular demographic groups.

Work environment. Travel agents spend most of their time behind a desk conferring with clients, completing paperwork, contacting airlines and hotels to make travel arrangements, and promoting tours. Most of their time is spent either on the telephone or on the computer researching travel itineraries or updating reservations and travel documents. Agents may be under a great deal of pressure during travel emergencies or when they need to reschedule missed reservations. Peak vacation times, such as summer and holiday travel periods, also tend to be hectic.

Many agents, especially those who are self-employed, frequently work long hours. Advanced computer systems and telecommunications networks make it possible for a growing number of travel agents to work at home; however, some agents feel a need to have an office presence to attract walk-in business.

Related Occupations

Sources: Career Guide to Industries (CGI), Occupational Information Network (O*Net), Occupation Outlook Handbook (OOH)
Earnings

Experience, sales ability, and the size and location of the agency determine the salary of a travel agent. Median annual earnings of travel agents were $29,210 in May 2006. The middle 50 percent earned between $23,020 and $36,920. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $18,100, while the top 10 percent earned more than $46,270. Median earnings in May 2006 for travel agents employed in the travel arrangement and reservation services industry were $29,160.

Salaried agents usually enjoy standard employer-paid benefits that self-employed agents must provide for themselves. When traveling for personal reasons, agents usually get reduced rates for transportation and accommodations. In addition, agents sometimes take familiarization trips, at lower cost or no cost to themselves, to learn about various vacation sites. These benefits often attract people to this occupation.

Earnings of travel agents who own their agencies depend mainly on commissions from travel-related bookings and service fees they charge clients. Often it takes time to acquire a sufficient number of clients to have adequate earnings, so it is not unusual for new self-employed agents to have low earnings. Established agents may have lower earnings during economic downturns.

For the latest wage information:

The above wage data are from the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) survey program, unless otherwise noted. For the latest National, State, and local earnings data, visit the following pages:

  • Travel agents
  • Job Outlook

    Employment of travel agents is expected to change little through 2016. Travel agents who specialize in a travel destination, type of traveler, or mode of transportation will have the best chances for success.

    Employment change. Employment of travel agents is expected to increase by 1 percent, which is considered little or no growth. As spending on travel and tourism rebound from recent recessionary periods and as more travelers begin taking more exotic and customized trips, the demands for the specialized services offered by travel agents will offset the service lost to Internet bookings for simpler itineraries. The ease of Internet use and the ready availability of travel and airline websites that allow people to research and plan their own trips, make their own reservations, and purchase their own tickets will result in less demand for travel agents for routine travel arrangements. There will be, however, many consumers who still prefer to use a professional travel agent to plan a complete trip; to deal with more complex transactions; to ensure reliability; to suggest excursions or destinations that might otherwise be missed; to save time; or, in some cases, to save money. In addition, higher projected levels of travel, especially from businesses and retiring baby boomers will offset the loss of routine transactions. Furthermore, luxury and specialty travel is expected to increase among the growing number of Americans who are seeking out exotic and unique vacations and a growing part of travel agents’ business is organizing and selling tours for the growing number of international visitors.

    Job prospects. Applicants for travel agent jobs should face fair to good job opportunities, depending on one’s qualifications and experience. Opportunities should be better for agents who specialize in specific destinations, luxury travel, or particular types of travelers such as ethnic groups or groups with a special interest or hobby.

    The demand for travel is sensitive to economic downturns and international political crises, when travel plans are likely to be deferred. Thus job opportunities for travel agents will fluctuate with changing economic and political times. Many openings, though, are expected to occur as agents leave for other occupations or retire.

    Employment

    Travel agents held about 101,000 jobs in May 2006 and are found in every part of the country. Nearly two-thirds worked for travel agencies. Another 13 percent were self-employed. The remainder worked for tour operators, visitor’s bureaus, reservation offices, and other travel arrangers.

    Knowledge
    • Mathematics — Knowledge of arithmetic, algebra, geometry, calculus, statistics, and their applications.
    • Engineering and Technology — Knowledge of the practical application of engineering science and technology. This includes applying principles, techniques, procedures, and equipment to the design and production of various goods and services.
    • Sales and Marketing — Knowledge of principles and methods for showing, promoting, and selling products or services. This includes marketing strategy and tactics, product demonstration, sales techniques, and sales control systems.
    • Medicine and Dentistry — Knowledge of the information and techniques needed to diagnose and treat human injuries, diseases, and deformities. This includes symptoms, treatment alternatives, drug properties and interactions, and preventive health-care measures.
    • Physics — Knowledge and prediction of physical principles, laws, their interrelationships, and applications to understanding fluid, material, and atmospheric dynamics, and mechanical, electrical, atomic and sub- atomic structures and processes.
    Skills
    • Equipment Maintenance — Performing routine maintenance on equipment and determining when and what kind of maintenance is needed.
    • Coordination — Adjusting actions in relation to others' actions.
    • Active Learning — Understanding the implications of new information for both current and future problem-solving and decision-making.
    • Writing — Communicating effectively in writing as appropriate for the needs of the audience.
    • Troubleshooting — Determining causes of operating errors and deciding what to do about it.
    Abilities
    • Near Vision — The ability to see details at close range (within a few feet of the observer).
    • Stamina — The ability to exert yourself physically over long periods of time without getting winded or out of breath.
    • Explosive Strength — The ability to use short bursts of muscle force to propel oneself (as in jumping or sprinting), or to throw an object.
    • Oral Comprehension — The ability to listen to and understand information and ideas presented through spoken words and sentences.
    • Hearing Sensitivity — The ability to detect or tell the differences between sounds that vary in pitch and loudness.
    Tasks
    • Core — Print or request transportation carrier tickets, using computer printer system or system link to travel carrier.
    • Core — Collect payment for transportation and accommodations from customer.
    • Core — Converse with customer to determine destination, mode of transportation, travel dates, financial considerations, and accommodations required.
    • Core — Compute cost of travel and accommodations, using calculator, computer, carrier tariff books, and hotel rate books, or quote package tour's costs.
    • Core — Book transportation and hotel reservations, using computer terminal or telephone.
    Activities
    • Monitoring and Controlling Resources — Monitoring and controlling resources and overseeing the spending of money.
    • Guiding, Directing, and Motivating Subordinates — Providing guidance and direction to subordinates, including setting performance standards and monitoring performance.
    • Assisting and Caring for Others — Providing personal assistance, medical attention, emotional support, or other personal care to others such as coworkers, customers, or patients.
    • Repairing and Maintaining Electronic Equipment — Servicing, repairing, calibrating, regulating, fine-tuning, or testing machines, devices, and equipment that operate primarily on the basis of electrical or electronic (not mechanical) principles.
    • Getting Information — Observing, receiving, and otherwise obtaining information from all relevant sources.
    Related College Curriculum
     
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