How to Become a Travel Agent

Learn About This Job

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Travel agents arrange transportation, accommodations, and entertainment for business and individual travelers after first assessing their needs and desires. An agent may specialize by type of travel, such as leisure or business, or by destination, for example, Europe, Asia, or Africa. Travel agents also promote travel packages on behalf of cruise lines, resorts, and specialty travel groups.

Employment Facts

  • About 376,000 people work in this field (2016).
  • Most jobs are with travel agencies; 15 percent of travel agents are self-employed.
  • The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects employment of travel agents to decline between 2016 and 2026. To counteract this dismal job outlook, consider specializing in a particular destination or type of traveler. Agents who do this will have better job opportunities than others.

See What It's Like to Be a Travel Agent

According to job announcements on Indeed.com, on a typical day a travel agent will:

  • "Book and ticket air for both domestic and international travel"
  • "Handle all aspects of the booking process including documentation, quality control, deposits, final payments, reviewing itineraries, visas, vaccinations, etc."
  • "Responsible for selling and retaining travel clients for cruises, tour packages, hotels, airfare, etc."
  • "Select accommodations and design routings that will fit the client’s budget"
  • "Resolve client issues and emergencies; expediting adjustments; following up to ensure resolution"
  • "Maintain ownership of each record until departure to ensure all details (including seat assignments, meal preferences, upgrades, etc.) are completed to the client's satisfaction"
  • "Ensure that all client account information is up to date so that a thorough knowledge and understanding of the account can be made by simply reading the client file"
  • "Learn and proficiently use travel agent tools"

Learn How to Prepare For This Occupation

At the minimum, you need a high school diploma if you want to become a travel agent. However, many employers prefer to hire job candidates who have completed college. If you decide to earn a bachelor's degree, consider majoring in travel and tourism or a related subject.

You may instead opt to get professional training in travel planning at a community college or technical school. Subject matter will include reservation systems, marketing your business, and international travel regulations.

What Certifications Can You Make You More Marketable?

After getting experience in this field, you can apply for two certifications that will increase your chances of securing employment. The Travel Institute provides education and training that leads to those designations: Certified Travel Associate (CTA) and Certified Travel Counselor (CTC).

Front-line agents with at least 12 months of experience in the retail travel industry may apply for the CTA designation. This may involve completing a 15 module curriculum, which includes studying topics such as business ethics, understanding customer needs, planning itineraries, touring the world, and travel insurance, and then passing an exam.

Alternatively, one may take the exam without completing the coursework.  (CTA-Certified Travel Associate, The Travel Institute).

The CTC designation allows individuals with at least five years of travel industry experience to prove they have the skills necessary to be effective managers. As a candidate for this certification, you will study core topics including coaching and mentoring, conflict management, negotiating, project management, and team building. Before applying for this credential, you must first complete the CTA course or pass the CTA test. After finishing the CTC coursework, you will have to pass an exam and write a comprehensive paper on a topic related to the travel industry. To maintain your CTC certification, you must earn 10 continuing education units (CEUs) per year (CTC-Certified Travel Counselor, The Travel Institute).

Do You Have the Attributes Employers Want?

Job announcements on Indeed.com indicate that employers want the travel agents they hire to have the following characteristics:

  • "A commitment to providing exceptional customer service"
  • "Ability to work independently as well as part of a team"
  • "Well-traveled and strong working knowledge of world geography"
  • "Ability to problem solve quickly in escalating situations"
  • "Excellent communication skills in person, on the telephone and through email"
  • "A strong knowledge of Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint)"
  • "Good time management skills and analytical skills are important; you should be able to prioritize and manage your own projects"
  • "Demonstrate ability and desire to work a flexible schedule including evenings, weekends, and holidays"

Is This Occupation a Good Fit for You?

Before you choose a career, make sure it is a good match for your interestspersonality type, and work-related values. People with the following traits have found success as travel agents:

Occupations With Related Tasks and Activities

 DescriptionAnnual Salary (2016)Educational Requirements
Retail SalespersonSells products directly to consumers$22,680High school or equivalency diploma
Sales RepresentativeSells products to businesses, government agencies, or organizations for wholesalers or manufacturers

$78,980 (technical & scientific products)

$57,140 (all other products)

Minimum of a high school diploma; many employers prefer job candidates with a bachelor's degree
Insurance AgentHelps clients buy all types of insurance$49,990Bachelor's degree preferred, but some employers will consider a high school graduate with proven sales ability
Securities and Commodities Sales AgentsMatch sellers and buyers of financial instruments$67,310 Bachelor's degree with coursework in business administration, finance, economics, and accounting

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor,  Occupational Outlook Handbook; Employment and Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor,  O*NET Online (visited March 7, 2018).