If you’re someone who spends their days scanning flights, loves hotel rewards points, and in general, is a fervent 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 are not as vital as they once were, people use them a lot more than you might think. Just because travelers aren’t calling up an agent every time they need to book a quick flight doesn’t mean they don’t want to consult an expert for a big trip. This holds especially true when it comes to honeymoons or bucket-list trips that have a lot of moving parts — coordinating tour companies, translators, or multiple resort stays, for example. It’s often easier to leave the logistics to someone else: travel agents.
You don’t need a specific employment background to become a travel agent, so if you’re looking for a fresh career start, that’s totally OK. You have to start somewhere on your path to becoming a travel agent, and the sooner you jump in, the sooner you’ll build your client base. On the other hand, if you’re hoping to parlay your experience in 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 perks), so here’s what you need to know to become a travel agent.
Formal Training Needed to Become a Travel Agent
While some four-year colleges, community colleges, and trade schools offer tourism certifications, it is not a requirement for those trying to become a travel agent. Certificates of tourism can be very helpful, but so can previous training in marketing, hospitality, or even event planning. Ultimately, your knowledge of destinations, sales, itinerary planning, and booking software will be crucial for your career as a travel agent.
In terms of the training time you need to put in before becoming a fully fledged travel agent, it depends. You could start your career right after high school, or you could put in one to four years to earn a certificate, associate's, or bachelor’s degree in tourism. Of course, you could also change course from a related job, and morph your experience as, say, a destination wedding planner into a career as a travel agent.
Training Programs Available
You could take classes with a company like The Travel Institute to earn your certification. Not only will they teach you the basics of planning itineraries, but they’ll also make sure you’re learning about new cultures, world geography, and experiences you can have all over the world. They’ll also help you decide what business route you want to take.
How to Become a Travel Agent: The Logistics
Becoming a travel agent will likely mean starting your own business. On the plus side, it requires relatively little overhead. If you’re becoming a small business owner by opening a yoga studio, for example, you will need to rent a space, deal with permits, buy supplies, build a website, and pay yoga teachers and someone to work the front desk. However, if you’re starting a business you can operate from your living room, there aren’t nearly as many upfront costs.
You will have to think about what type of business you want to become. Do you want to incorporate or become an LLC? Would you rather be a sole proprietor? Incorporating takes the most effort, and is often the most expensive. Becoming an LLC is a good happy medium, because it can help protect you as a business entity without having as many associated costs. Small business owners typically become an LLC to protect their personal assets. If you get sued as an LLC, someone can come after your business holdings, but can’t come after your house, car, or personal savings.
If you choose to remain a sole proprietor (which doesn’t require any fees or legwork), you are essentially a freelancer or independent contractor. You can be an LLC and an independent contractor, too — they aren’t mutually exclusive. If you want to be an independent contractor, it likely means you’re working as part of a larger host agency, which is smart to do when you’re starting out as a travel agent. Down the road, you can also own a franchise of a travel agency. Owning a franchise might come with more overhead costs, and that would be a reason to incorporate.
If you’re an independent contractor, you should know that your taxes aren’t going to be as straightforward as a full-time employee's might be. You may have to start keeping track of your business expenses, as you might be able to write them off. You also might not get things like health benefits from your employer. As you plan your new career, consider sitting down with an established travel agent to ask them some logistical questions: Where do they get their health insurance? How do they keep track of their income and expenses? Do they use an accountant to do their taxes? While meeting with the travel agent, you can discuss the pros and cons of working for a larger agency, too. If you’re not sure how to get in touch with other travel agents, consider using social media, like LinkedIn or even Instagram.
What to Think About When You Become a Travel Agent
Once you’ve secured work as a travel agent, you’ll want to think about how you can earn more money and distinguish yourself from other agents. Here are three things to consider as you start your career.
Making Commissions: If you’re working for a larger travel agency as an independent contractor, how do commissions work? Make sure you have this conversation early on before accepting the position. When you’re starting out, you want to make sure the commission rate you’re receiving is similar to the industry standard.
Growing Your Client Base: How do you make more money as a travel agent? Clients, clients, clients. You want happy customers who will return to you every time they want to book a travel experience. You’ll want to keep your clients happy by finding them great deals, curating unbelievable experiences for them, and simply being great to work with.
Establishing a Niche: This is by no means a requirement for becoming a travel agent, but as you establish your career, you may want to consider focusing on a specific niche. For example, perhaps you’re someone who focuses on honeymoon travel, luxury travel, or adventure travel. Your niche can help you attract clients, and it can be anything in the travel realm, as long as there’s a need for it.
Becoming a Travel Agent During the Pandemic
With travel restrictions in place across the globe amid the coronavirus pandemic, now might seem 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 navigate travel in an ever-changing environment. According to Kristen Korey Pike, a Travel + Leisure top travel advisor, "While a global pandemic may seem 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 restrictions still in place, it’s an opportune time to learn the ropes of the industry in order to be properly equipped when travel comes back with a bang."
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