Keen competition for jobs is expected.
Constantly changing airfares and schedules, thousands of
available vacation packages, and a vast amount of travel information
on the Internet can make travel planning frustrating and time
consuming. To sort out the many travel options, tourists and
business people often turn to travel agents, who assess their
needs and help them make the best possible travel arrangements.
Also, many major cruise lines, resorts, and specialty travel
groups use travel agents to promote travel packages to millions
of people every year.
In general, travel agents give advice on destinations and
make arrangements for transportation, hotel accommodations,
car rentals, tours, and recreation. They also may advise on
weather conditions, restaurants, and tourist attractions.
For international travel, agents also provide information
on customs regulations, required papers (passports, visas,
and certificates of vaccination), and currency exchange rates.
Travel agents consult a variety of published and computer-based
sources for information on departure and arrival times, fares,
and hotel ratings and accommodations. They may visit hotels,
resorts, and restaurants to evaluate comfort, cleanliness,
and quality of food and service so that they can base recommendations
on their own travel experiences or those of colleagues or
Travel agents also promote their 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.
Travel agents no longer receive commission payments from domestic
airlines, and agents face increasing competition from the
Internet for low-cost fares. In an effort to find a niche
in the market, many travel agents now specialize in travel
to certain regions or for certain groups of people, such as
honeymooners, grandparents, or ethnic groups.
Travel agents spend most of their time behind a desk conferring
with clients, completing paperwork, contacting airlines and
hotels for travel arrangements, and promoting group tours.
During vacation seasons and holiday periods, they may be under
a great deal of pressure. Many agents, especially those who
are self-employed, frequently work long hours. With advanced
computer systems and telecommunication networks, it is increasingly
common for travel agents to work at home.
|Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
The minimum requirement for those interested in becoming
a travel agent is a high school diploma or equivalent. Technology
and computerization have increased the training needs, however,
and many employers prefer applicants with more education,
such as a postsecondary vocational award. Many vocational
schools offer full-time travel agent programs that last several
months, as well as evening and weekend programs. Travel agent
courses also are offered in public adult education programs
and in community and 4-year colleges. A few colleges offer
bachelor’s or master’s degrees in travel and tourism. Although
few college courses relate directly to travel or tourism,
a college education sometimes is desired by employers to establish
a background in fields such as computer science, geography,
communication, foreign languages, and world history. Courses
in accounting and business management also are important,
especially for those who expect to manage or start their own
The American Society of Travel Agents offers a correspondence
course that provides a basic understanding of the travel industry.
Travel agencies also provide on-the-job training for their
employees, a significant part of which consists of computer
instruction. All employers require computer skills of workers
whose jobs involve the operation of airline and centralized
Continuing education is critical, as 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. 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
Personal travel experience or experience as an airline reservation
agent is an asset because knowledge about a city or foreign
country often helps influence a client’s travel plans. Patience
and the ability to gain the confidence of clients also are
useful qualities. Travel agents must be well-organized, accurate,
and meticulous to compile information from various sources
and plan and organize their clients’ travel itineraries. Also,
agents who specialize in business travel must work quickly
and efficiently because business travel often must be arranged
on short notice. As the Internet has become an important tool
for making travel arrangements, more travel agencies are using
websites to provide their services to clients. This trend
has increased the importance of computer skills in this occupation.
Other desirable qualifications include good writing and interpersonal
and sales skills.
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 office manager or to other managerial
Those who start their own agencies generally have had experience
in an established agency. Before they can receive commissions,
these agents usually must gain formal approval from suppliers
or corporations, such as airlines, ship lines, or rail lines.
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
There are no Federal licensing requirements for travel agents.
In 2004, however, 13 States required some form of registration
or certification of retail sellers of travel services. More
information may be obtained by contacting the Office of the
Attorney General or Department of Commerce in each State.
Travel agents held about 103,000 jobs in 2004 and are found
in every part of the country. More than 3 out of 5 agents
worked for travel agencies. Around 14 percent were self-employed.
Employment of travel agents is expected to decline through
2014. Most openings will occur as experienced agents transfer
to other occupations or leave the labor force. Because of
the projected decline in employment and the fact that a number
of people are attracted by the travel benefits associated
with this occupation, keen competition for jobs is expected.
Travel agents who specialize and can utilize the Internet
to reduce their costs and better compete with other travel
suppliers should have the best chance for success.
The Internet increasingly allows people to access travel
information from their personal computers, enabling them to
research and plan their own trips, make their own reservations
and travel arrangements, and purchase their own tickets. As
a result, demand will decline for travel agents who simply
take orders, such as booking tickets for a specified date
and time. Also, domestic airlines no longer pay commissions
to travel agencies, which has reduced revenues and caused
some agencies to go out of business. This change also has
led many travel agents to begin charging fees for their services.
To justify those fees, customers expect travel agents to provide
good service and travel expertise. Opportunities may 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. Many consumers
still prefer to use a professional travel agent to plan a
complete trip; to deal with some of the 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.
Several factors should offset the adverse effect of Internet
travel arrangement and the loss of revenues from airline bookings.
For example, spending on tourism and travel is expected to
increase over the next decade. With rising household incomes,
smaller families, and an increasing number of older people
who are more likely to travel, more people are expected to
travel on vacation—and to do so more frequently—than in the
past. Business travel also should rebound from recession and
terrorism-related declines as business activity expands. Business
travel also should increase as U.S. businesses open more foreign
operations and businesses increasingly sell their goods and
services worldwide. In addition, luxury and specialty travel
should increase among the growing number of Americans with
the available time and money for these more expensive trips.
Another positive factor is the increasing affordability of
air travel. Greater competition among airlines, especially
from low-cost carriers, has brought airfares within the budgets
of more people. In addition, American travel agents now organize
more tours for the growing number of foreign visitors. Also,
travel agents often are able to offer various travel packages
at a substantial discount.
The demand for travel is sensitive to economic downturns
and international political crises, when travel plans are
likely to be deferred. Therefore, the number of job opportunities
for travel agents fluctuates. However, the number of travelers
has risen recently, possibly reflecting demand from consumers
who delayed travel because of terrorism and safety concerns.
Demand for travel remains volatile, though, and trends could
change at any time.
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 $27,640 in May 2004. The middle
50 percent earned between $21,600 and $35,070. The lowest
10 percent earned less than $17,180, while the top 10 percent
earned more than $44,090. Median earnings in May 2004 for
travel agents employed in the travel arrangement and reservation
services industry were $27,490.
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 attract many 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
Travel agents organize and schedule business, educational,
or recreational travel or activities. Other workers with similar
responsibilities include tour and travel guides, and reservation
and transportation ticket agents and travel clerks.
|Sources of Additional Information
For further information on training opportunities, contact:
For information on training and certification qualifications,
- The Travel Institute, 148 Linden St., Suite 305, Wellesley,
Source: Bureau of Labor
Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational
Outlook Handbook, 2006-07 Edition