Career: Travel Agent
Travel agents help their clients figure out how to get the best value out of their travel budgets. The agent does the legwork for his client, from making all the necessary airline, car rental, and hotel reservations to finding out about visa requirements or scouting weather forecasts. The travel agent is largely a salesperson, and so he must be familiar with his products and services. Once the customer settles on her travel plans, the agent makes all the arrangements using various computer sources, particularly the SABRE computer network. The agent then explains practical matters such as customs and currency exchange to the traveler and offers her advice on things like sightseeing and wardrobe. There is no margin for error in this career, since mistakes can leave clients stranded and frightened. This means the agent must always confirm every reservation. The need to repeat these tedious activities is the downside travel agents cite most often. Travel agents spend most of their time at their desks, and the majority of these hours are spent dealing with clients, whether in person or over the phone. The travel agency’s hours accommodate its clientele, so most agents work more than forty hours per week in a variety of shifts. Extensive travel at deep discounts is often cited as the biggest perk in this field. Many agents also spend time as tour guides in order to become familiar with not just the well-traveled areas of the world but also “off the beaten path.”
Many travel agencies require that their agents hold a liberal arts or business degree from a four-year college or university. No one major is preferred, but some companies require specific degrees reflecting the focus of the agency. Along these lines, some specialized and international agencies require their agents to be fluent in the language of the area they work with. Since client service is the largest part of the travel agent’s job, experience in other service occupations is a good idea. Potential travel agents must be able to work under the pressure of anxious customers; patience is a crucial quality. With foreign language skills and experience in service industries, a candidate stands a better chance of finding employment with the more competitive international agencies.
Even for those without a bachelor’s degree, the field is not restricted. Another option is completing a six- to eighteen-week travel course. This course offers the basic skills needed by a travel agent and is often the minimum requirement for agent status. Still others begin by working in a related field, such as at a ticket agency, and work their way up to a job as a travel agent. This route enables you to discover the perks and gain experience before making a commitment to the career. One agency owner says she is more likely to hire a well-traveled ticket agent than an unseasoned travel school graduate. Finally, many agents obtain the approval of agencies such as the Air Traffic Conference. All agents should be licensed by or registered with the state in which they practice.
There are a number of positions in the travel industry that do not require the training necessary for travel agents. Reservation, ticket, and car rental agents are responsible for providing these services to customers. There is often only a short on-the-job training period before these agents begin working. These jobs also offer discounts on travel services that make travel cheap and easy. Other travel fields require some specialized knowledge. For instance, an adventure travel guide must have extensive knowledge of the touring area and must be expert in an activity, such as hiking. Vacation and location tour guides need not have the physical skills of the adventure travel guide, but must have intimate knowledge of their area. Entertainment and cruise directors plan events for travel groups and often attend the event, which gives them immediate customer response and lets them enjoy the results of their efforts.