Travel Agent, Retail and Wholesale
Travel Agent, Retail and Wholesale
Education and Training: Some college (preferably a degree) and on-the-job training
Salary: Median—$27,640 per year
Employment Outlook: Poor to fair
Definition and Nature of the Work
Travel agents help their clients make travel plans. In addition to booking reservations, they assist customers in choosing their destination, transportation, and lodging and inform travelers of passport and visa requirements, rates of currency exchange, and import duties.
Wholesale travel agents are generally skilled agents who specialize in organizing tours and then selling them to retail travel agencies. (Retail travel agents, in turn, sell the tours to travelers.) Designing and developing a tour involves determining an itinerary, arranging for tour escorts, and making travel and accommodation reservations. Many tours also include optional side trips and activities that have to be planned carefully. Wholesale travel agents must have good marketing skills to interest retail travel agents in the tours they have developed.
Retail travel agents offer advice to the general public. They furnish travelers with timetables and travel literature, compute fare costs and make reservations, and sell tours developed by the wholesale travel organizations. In large travel agencies, agents may specialize in specific geographic areas; in smaller agencies, travel agents have a broader range of responsibilities.
Most travel agents work for companies that are directly involved in transporting people—travel agencies, airlines, cruise ships, and railroads. Other employers of travel agents include oil companies, automobile clubs, and travel charter clubs. Some travel positions are available on the staffs of federal, state, and city governments seeking to encourage and expand tourism. Travel agents in government jobs provide industry-related information but do not perform services such as booking reservations.
Education and Training Requirements
College-level training is becoming more important as job competition increases. Courses in liberal arts and knowledge of geography, world cultures, and foreign languages are useful. Business administration, accounting, and marketing courses are also helpful, as is travel experience. Computer training is necessary to track ticket prices, availability, travel dates, and routing information.
Entry-level travel agents generally train on the job in clerical positions. Professional status as a travel agent is acquired through membership in the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA). To become a member, an individual must have three years of experience as a travel agent and must be approved for making sales by at least two carrier conferences. (The five major conferences are the Pacific Cruise Conference, the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, the International Air Transport Association, the International Passenger Ship Association, and the Air Traffic Conference of America.) Approval is given to agents who are well established in the travel business. Those travel agents who want to sell the widest possible range of services belong to all five conferences. In some large cities ASTA offers night classes in travel agency operation. ASTA also offers a correspondence course for anyone interested in becoming a travel agent.
Getting the Job
Candidates should apply directly to the travel agencies for which they would like to work. Newspaper want ads, Internet job sites, and trade magazines and journals list job openings for travel agents.
Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook
Retail travel agents working in large agencies can advance by specializing in a particular service. Eventually they may become agency directors. Experienced agents who are members of ASTA can go into business for themselves.
Prospective wholesale travel agents can gain experience by leading travel tours and then move into designing their own packages or specializing in a particular area of tour design or marketing.
Increased leisure time, higher incomes, and longer employer-provided vacation time has given people more time and money for travel, and many people seek the services of travel agencies. The industry is sensitive to economic fluctuations, though, and the employment outlook is expected to decline through the year 2014. Increased consumer use of the Internet to make travel reservations and buy tickets has reduced the business of travel agencies; however, a certain percentage of travelers will continue to seek the advice and assistance of experienced travel professionals.
Because travel agencies serve the public, agents usually work in very attractive offices. The work can be hectic at times. Most agents work forty hours each week, but they usually work longer hours from January through June, when most travel plans are made.
Travel agents are primarily sales workers, so they must enjoy working with people and be able to establish effective relationships with their customers—even when those customers are particularly hard to please.
Where to Go for More Information
American Society of Travel Agents
1101 King St., Ste. 200
Alexandria, VA 22314
The Travel Institute
148 Linden St., Ste. 305
Wellesley, MA 02482
Earnings and Benefits
Earnings vary depending on geographic location, experience, and specific duties. The earnings of most travel agents who work in sales are based on commissions, so their income will vary depending on the amount of business they handle. However, an increasing number of travel agencies now charge fees for their services and refund any commissions to their clients. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for travel agents was $27,640 in 2004. Particularly successful travel agents earn much more. Benefits generally include health insurance, paid holidays and vacations, retirement plans, and discounts on travel and lodging. Self-employed travel agents must provide their own benefits.