A career as a travel agent sounds glamorous if you dream of traveling all over the world. It's true that agents often check out destinations firsthand, but they do most of their work sitting at a desk in the office. They usually work full time, and overtime is common during crunch periods. If you you want to begin a career as a travel agent, formal training will increase your chances.
Travel agents research, sell and book travel plans for both pleasure and business clients. They help their customers find the best flights, accommodations and tours for their particular needs. They handle airplane reservations, tour packages, hotels reservations, car rentals and special excursions, and advise clients about weather, clothing, visas, immunizations and passports. Some agents specialize in a particular type of travel, such as cruises, or a particular demographic, such as singles or women. Still others specialize in business travel, or a particular destination, such as Asia.
The basic requirement for a job as travel agent is a high school education, but employers usually prefer applicants with post-secondary training in travel. Vocational schools and community colleges offer educational programs, some of which lead to degrees. The classes typically cover topics such as marketing techniques, computer reservation systems and travel regulations. In addition, professional associations such as The Travel Institute offer training and exams leading to certifications. Employers also commonly provide on-the-job training for new hires.
A travel agent must have good communications and sales skills. Careful attention to detail is necessary to make accurate arrangements, and computer skills are a must to navigate modern reservations systems. A travel agent must be organized to juggle the arrangements for multiple clients at the same time. In some states, a travel agent needs a business license, but the laws vary.
The average travel agent earned $35,740 in 2011, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Ten percent of agents earn $54,640 per year or more. Out of 67,490 agents nationwide, 63,500 worked for travel agencies and reservations services, with average annual pay of $35,490. Agents working in corporate travel offices earned a much-higher average of $47,300 per year. The state with the highest employment in 2011 was California, where 8,870 agents averaged $38,880 per year. The highest-paying state was Maryland, where annual pay averaged $43,270.
The number of travel agent positions is projected to increase by 10 percent between 2010 and 2020, compared to 14 percent for all occupations, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The ease of making travel arrangements over the Internet is expected to slow the growth in travel positions. Travel agents with expertise in a particular destination or type of travel, such as adventure, and those specializing in business travel will have the best job prospects.