A traveler's best friend
Travel agents are a harried traveler's best friends. Amateurs who have attempted to arrange their own airfare, hotel accommodations, or vacation schedule know that can be frustrating and fruitless without the insider savvy of a travel agent. But travel agents don't just book reservations. They give advice, make transportation arrangements, give weather forecasts, and restaurant suggestions. At their fingertips, they possess computer-based airline codes to determine departure and arrival times and have often traveled to the same resorts and cities that they recommend to their clients.
The training required to become a travel agent is highly specialized; many agents have certifications from six- to twelve-week college or continuing education courses. Even with their training and indispensability to their clients, travel agents aren't very well paid. Airlines have "capped" the commissions which they used to pay travel agents to a flat rate for fares over $500; previously an agent received 10 percent of the total fare, regardless of the price. It's not as if travel agents have a light work schedule, either. They often stay at their desks until at least 7 p.m., or later if a client should call with a missed flight or a lost passport. Travel agents generally choose their career path out of a love of travel and customer satisfaction, rather than expectations of fame and wealth.
There is, however, a wealth of job opportunities for travel agents - right now, anyway. This is something that is never stable for agents entering the job market, since the travel industry is easily upset by economic fluctuations and international political crises. Unfortunately, no one likes to fly penniless into a war zone. Go figure.
Some colleges offer four-year degrees in travel and tourism, while others have courses that relate to the industry. While a college degree is not required to become a travel agent, some employers prefer agents to have a background in computer science, geography, communications, or foreign languages. Courses in accounting and business management are also a wise investment, as many agents consider starting their own agencies. Six- to 12-week programs offered at community colleges and continuing education programs are comprehensive and are usually sufficient training for beginning travel agents. Some agents start as reservation clerks or receptionists in agencies, advance to office manager or other managerial positions, and eventually move on to become full-fledged agents. Agents in larger firms often specialize by type of travel (leisure vs. business), or by destination (The Galapogos Islands vs. Iceland).
Travel agents who wish to advance quickly can take advanced courses from the Institute of Certified Travel Agents. Upon completion of the courses, an agent becomes a Certified Travel Counselor. The American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) offers a correspondence course as well. These certifications can be helpful for those wishing to start their own businesses, as is gaining formal supplier or corporation approval (airlines, ship lines, and rail lines), since approval is necessary before travel agents are authorized to receive commissions. Certain states also require some form of registration or certification of retail sellers of travel services.
Discounted travel;Make people happy
Long hours;High stress level;Low pay
Averages about 45 per week
Median salary of all travel agents: $24,680
High school diploma or equivalent;Good writing, computer, and sales skills are also helpful
Although many travel agents receive "a rude awakening" when they find their hopes of "glamour and jet-setting" to have exceeded the reality of the job, others do not seem to mind the "evenings behind the desk," because they feel a "genuine obligation" to their clients. As one respondent explains, "It is an ego boost to know that someone halfway around the world needs you." There are also perks in the job, like "discounted or free travel," although an agent's demanding schedule leaves "hardly any time to use all the free tickets."
It is easy for travel agents to become frustrated and "overburdened," especially because some clients consider them to be responsible for every aspect of their vacations. As one agent puts it, "They expect me to control the weather." The commission caps "have devastated the morale" of many agents, though many continue to work in the industry because they "love working with people and the travel is some consolation for the stress."
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