A Day in the Life of a 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.”
Paying Your Dues
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.
Present and Future
Thomas Cook began the first official travel agency in England in 1841. Every year he organized tours for thousands of travelers to “exotic” places. The first American travel agency was established in 1872. Since then, travel has become routine as a leisure activity and business standard. Travel and tourism have become one of the largest service industries in the United States. In the next ten years it is anticipated that the number of agents needed will grow by 62 percent. The structure of the industry will probably change, though, as people change the duration and location of their trips. What was once the typical two-week family vacation has become several long weekends away each year. Those who previously visited Disneyland are now taking eco-tours to the Galapagos Islands. The travel industry is affected by political factors and the fluctuating dollar, but many regions depend on tourism as their primary source of revenue. This makes it highly likely that travel will remain a stable industry for many years to come.
Quality of Life
PRESENT AND FUTURE
At this point new agents are often frustrated that they are viewed as novices. They are still struggling to build up a regular clientele. Nonetheless, they are enticed by the opportunities to travel, which provide them with the experience they need to get ahead in the field.
FIVE YEARS OUT
Agents report discovering that the travel industry is not as glamorous as they had thought. While they are happy with their promotions to managerial status, they are tiring of the long hours.
TEN YEARS OUT
Many travel agents change companies at this time in order to advance further, perhaps into managerial positions at large agencies; or they may put their years of experience to work by going into business for themselves.