If you’re someone who spends your days scanning flights, loves hotel rewards points, and is generally a passionate traveler, you’ve probably wondered how to become a travel agent. And while it’s true that living in the age of Expedia means travel agents aren’t as important as they used to be, people use you a lot more than you might think. Just because travelers don’t call an agent every time you need to book a quick flight doesn’t mean you don’t want to consult an expert for a great trip. This is especially true when it comes to honeymoon or bucket-list trips that have many moving parts-for example, coordinating tour operators, translators or multiple resort stays. It’s often easier to leave the logistics to someone else: Travel agents.
You don’t need a specific career background to become a travel agent, so if you’re looking for a new career start, that’s perfectly fine. You need to start somewhere along your journey to becoming a travel agent, and the sooner you get in, the sooner you’ll build your customer base. On the other hand, if you’re hoping to parlay your experience into a semi-related industry, be it marketing or hospitality, that can help because you’ll have even more context for your new gig. Either way, this can be a rewarding career path (with some fun benefits), so here’s what you need to know about becoming a travel agent.
Formal Education Required to Become a Travel Agent
While some four-year colleges, community colleges and trade schools offer tourism certifications, this is not a requirement for those trying to become a travel agent. Tourism certificates can be very helpful, but so can previous training in marketing, hospitality, or even event planning. Ultimately, your knowledge of destinations, sales, travel planning, and booking software is critical to your career as a travel agent.
In terms of the training time you need to put in before you become a full-fledged travel agent, it depends. You could start your career right out of high school, or you could put in one to four years to earn a certificate, associate or bachelor’s degree in tourism. Of course, you could also change course from a related job and turn your experience as a destination wedding planner into a career as a travel agent.
Training Programs Available
You can take courses with a company like the Travel Institute to get your certification. Not only will they teach you the basics of planning itineraries, but they will also make sure you learn about new cultures, world geography, and experiences you can have around the world. They will also help you decide which business route to take.
How to become a travel agent: the logistics
Becoming a travel agent probably means starting your own business. On the plus side, it requires relatively little overhead. If you become a small business owner by opening a yoga studio, for example, you will need to rent a space, get permits, buy supplies, create a website, and pay yoga instructors and someone to work the front desk. However, if you are starting a business that you can run from your living room, there are not nearly as many upfront costs.
You need to think about what kind of business you want to become. Do you want to integrate or become an LLC? Would you rather be a sole proprietor? Integration requires the most effort and is often the most expensive. Becoming an LLC is a good, happy medium because it can help you as a business entity without as many associated costs. Small business owners usually become an LLC to protect your personal assets. If you are sued as an LLC, someone may come after your business holdings, but not your home, car or personal savings.
If you choose to remain a sole proprietor (which requires no fees or legwork), you are essentially a freelancer or Independent Contractor. You can also be an LLC and an Independent Contractor – they are not mutually exclusive. If you want to be an Independent Contractor, that probably means you’re working as part of a larger host agency, which is smart if you’re starting out as a travel agent. On the road, you can also own a franchise of a travel agency. Owning a franchise could come with more overhead, and that would be a reason to integrate.
If you are an Independent Contractor, know that your taxes will not be as simple as a full time employee might be. You may need to keep track of your business expenses, as you may be able to write them off. You may also not receive health benefits from your employer. As you plan your new career, you should sit down with an established travel agent to ask you some logistical questions: Where do you get your health insurance? How do you track your income and expenses? Do you use an accountant to do your taxes? While you’re meeting with the travel agent, you can also discuss the pros and cons of working for a larger agency. If you’re not sure how to connect with other travel agents, consider using social media like LinkedIn or even Instagram.
What to Think When You Become a Travel Agent
Once you’ve secured your job as a travel agent, you’ll want to think about how you can make more money and differentiate yourself from other agents. Here are three things to consider as you begin your career.
Commission Making: If you’re an Independent Contractor working for a larger travel agency, how do commissions work? Make sure you have this conversation early on before you accept the position. When you start, you want to make sure the commission rate you receive is similar to the industry standard.
Expanding your client base: How do you make more money as a travel agent? Customers, Customers, Customers. You want happy customers who return to you every time they want to book a travel experience. You want to make your customers happy by finding great deals, curating incredible experiences for you, and just doing great work.
Establish a niche: This is by no means a requirement to become a travel agent, but as you build your career, you should focus on a specific niche. For example, you may be someone who focuses on honeymoons, luxury travel, or adventure travel. Your niche can help you attract clients, and it can be anything in the travel field as long as there is a need for it.
Become a travel agent during the pandemic
With travel restrictions in place around the world in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, now seems like an unusual time to become a travel agent. However, travelers need more guidance than ever to plan future trips, so your expertise will come in handy as people travel in an ever-changing environment. According to Kristen Korey Pike, a top travel consultant for Travel And Leisure, “While a global pandemic seems like an odd time to join the travel industry, if travel consulting is a career you’ve always wanted to explore, there’s no time like the present. “She added,” With many limitations still in place, it’s an opportune time to learn the ropes of the industry to be properly equipped when travel comes back with a bang.”