How to Become a Travel Agent
There’s soooooo much to think about if you’re considering becoming a travel agent. The thing is, becoming a travel agent doesn’t have a single route or even a direct route. Depending on what type of travel advisor you want to become, the process will be different.
It’s kind of like a choose-your-own adventure. There are so many different pathways you can take to embark on your journey.
This resource will offer a big-picture of some of the different pathways you can take to become a travel agent. We’ll offer a look at different travel agent options, requirements to sell travel, and what it takes to become a travel agent (depending on which route you decide to go!)
Here’s a look!
⭐️ HAR Article Highlights: ⭐️
- Becoming a Travel Agent: What are Your Options?
- How to Become a Self-Employed Travel Agent (in 5 steps)
- How to Become a Travel Agent Employee
- What are The Legal Requirements to Become a Travel Agent?
- What are the Education or Certification Requirements to Become a Travel Agent?
Becoming a Travel Agent: What are Your Options?
If you think of a “travel agent,” you’re likely thinking of the kind of travel agent who books leisure vacations. However, one of the reasons becoming a travel agent is such a darn complicated topic is that there are so many different kinds of travel agents out there.
Becoming a travel agent is like embarking on a choose-your-own-adventure story. Do you want to be an entrepreneurial travel agent and work for yourself and set your own hours? Do you want to be a travel agency employee who works at a storefront agency? Do you want to book leisure vacations? Business travel? Do you want to book meetings and incentive trips for corporations? Do you want to be a home-based advisor, or do you want to work at a storefront location?
As you begin to consider becoming a travel agent, here are a few questions you can ask yourself. There are two primary categories of travel agents:
- Travel agent employees
- Independent travel agents (or travel agent entrepreneurs)
Becoming a travel agent looks very different for those two types of travel agent categories! Below is a brief explanation of what it means to be a travel agent employee versus an independent travel agent.
What Is a Self-Employed Travel Agent?
A self-employed travel advisor is the most common route to joining the travel industry nowadays. These can be one-person agencies or an agency that has employees or independent contractors working under their umbrella.
There are three main pathways to become a self-employed travel agent.
There are a few different ways you can become a self-employed travel agent. Here’s a look at three main categories and what makes them distinct from one another.
- Hosted Travel Agent: An independent contractor (IC) agent who uses a host agency’s accreditation in order to book travel for their clients. This is similar to how IC real estate agencies align with a larger agency like Coldwell Banker or Keller Williams.
- Independently–Accredited Travel Agent: A travel advisor who has their own accreditation number to book travel.
- Franchise Owner: Someone who purchases the rights to use and sell under a travel agency brand. (A franchise owner may be independently accredited or hosted.)
This is just the brass tacks of defining and categorizing self-employed advisors. If you’re new to this lingo and it sounds like gibberish, don’t worry! It’s not something you need to know before becoming a travel agent!
Pros & Cons of Becoming a Self-Employed Travel Agent
With that (relatively) settled, here are the pros and cons of becoming an independent travel agent:
- Be your own boss
- Flexible schedule
- Work from anywhere
- No income caps
- Creative license to run your business how you want including:
- Choosing what to book
- Choosing your clients
- Working and growing your agency at your own pace
- Few/no barriers to entry
- Income is more variable (rather than a predictable paycheck)
- No compensation until after the final deposit or after the client travels
- The responsibility of running your own business
- Requires capital to get started
- Many more costs than going the employee route
- No employer benefits
- Finding your own clients
- Higher risk
How to Become a Self-Employed Travel Agent (in 5 Steps)
If you want to pursue becoming a self-employed travel agent, then there’s extra legwork you’ll need to do in order to become a travel agent. You have a business to start, after all!
Whether you want to dabble in selling on travel on the side a few hours a week for extra income or open your own storefront business with your own employees, there’s a lot to think about!
This section offers a summary of five steps you’ll need to complete if you want to become a travel agent. It’s not a complete guide with every detail you need to get started. (For that, check out the free and paid course options we have on the site!)
Step 1: Start Brainstorming Your Travel Agency Business
If you become a self-employed travel agent, you get to be your own boss and decide what kind of travel you want to sell.
On the one hand, that’s awesome that you get so much freedom to follow your interests and passions! On the other hand, wow, that’s a lot of decisions you’ll need to make!
The two keystones of brainstorming your travel agency business, finding a niche and a name!
Figuring out your travel agency specialty (or niche):
To become a travel agent, you’ll need to decide if you want a specialty focus and, if so, what you would like your specialty to be.
There’s a lot to consider when figuring out a niche. If you’re in this phase of becoming an advisor, here’s a few resources from Host Agency Reviews:
- How to Find a Niche: A Step by Step Guide (article resource): This article offers a broad overview of the advantages of establishing a niche and how to begin brainstorming a niche that would work well for you and your networks.
- HAR's 7 Day Set Up Accelerator (Paid course): If you want a little more hands-on help finding a niche, HAR’s on-demand includes a chapter with five lessons dedicated to finding a niche, and five interviews with advisors about how and why they chose their niche. The chapters offer more in depth and personalized assistance on finding a niche that will help you become a successful travel agent, addressing tips on competitive intelligence when choosing a niche, how to evaluate market saturation and the size of your target market and more. The course’s Buzz Sessions also include small group consultation from HAR as well as peer support via the private community.
Figuring out your travel agency name:
After you find a niche, the next step part of brainstorming will be to name your agency.
If you know you want to become a travel agent franchisee, you may be exempt from this step! But for the majority of independent advisors—whether hosted or with their own accreditation—you will need to complete this step!
- Tips for Choosing Travel Agency Names: This article walks you through what you’ll need to consider when choosing a name). It includes a free download to help you brainstorm your name! Check out how to start developing an effective travel agency name!
- HAR's 7 Day Set Up Accelerator (Paid course): Choosing a business name is one of the most common places for people to get stuck as they’re becoming a travel advisor! HAR’s chapter on travel agency names offers more support in finding a name, including walking through the exercises with examples, a private forum for instructor and peer feedback, tips, and a walkthrough on how to conduct competitive intelligence with your top names for searchability and availability.
Brainstorming your agency niche and name will help you lay the foundation for becoming a travel advisor. Not only that, but it will help orient you in the next steps to becoming a travel agent.
Step 2: Figure Out Which Travel Agency Model is Best for You
The next step to becoming a travel agent is to figure out what business model makes the most sense for you. Your niche will play into this decision, which is why we recommend looking at niche first.
To become an independent travel agent, your agency model options will be the three we discussed early in this blog:
- Hosted Travel Agent: An IC who uses a host agency’s accreditation in order to book travel for their clients. >>> Read the Top 10 Benefits of Using a Host Agency
- Independently–Accredited Travel Agent: A travel advisor who has their own accreditation number to book travel. >>> Read Travel Agency Accreditation Options
- Franchise Owner: Someone who purchases the rights to use and sell under a consumer-recognized travel agency brand. >>> Read Travel Agency Franchise or Host Agency?
If you’re at the stage where you’re ready to dive into these models and begin making a decision on the best model for you, a good bet is to sign up for HAR’s 7-Day Setup.
Step 3: Register Your Travel Agency Business with Your State
Now we’re really getting into some “choose your own adventure” territory. For independent and hosted advisors, you’ll need to register your business with your state. This can be broken down into two sub-steps for getting registered:
1. Choose which business structure works best for you
There will be multiple business structures to consider if you want to become a self-employed travel agent. The two main ones are:
- Sole Proprietor: Simplest business structure to set up and has a sole owner.
- LLC (Limited Liability Corporation): Here “limited liability” means this business structure helps buffer your personal financial liability from business financial responsibility.
I’m not going to get knee-deep into this topic here, but if you want to wade into the particulars of choosing a business structure and the specific steps required for each, go yonder to our full guide on business structures.
2. Register that baddie!
That’s right, by “baddie” I mean your travel agency. How do you do that? Visit some fun bureaucratic websites! Yay!
- US readers: Not all states require you to register, but check your state's laws for registering your business name.
- Canadian readers: Info on registering your business name in your province.
Step 4: Align with a Host Agency, Accrediting Organization, or Travel Franchise
Once you choose your agency model and get registered you’ll be ready to align with a host agency, an accrediting organization, or a travel franchise.
You may be thinking, hey?! Why do I register my business after I choose a host? That sounds backward.
The reason for this is that many (if not most) accrediting organizations and host agencies will require your business to be registered before you sell with them.
Step 5: Choose Travel Agent Training, Education, or Certification
At the end of the day, if you want to become a successful travel agent, you’ll need to get your learning on.
It might seem counterintuitive to choose education after you’re already pursuing a career. But the reason why I include this step last (rather than up front), is that the best fit for you will depend so much on your niche and who you’re partnering with.
HAR has created an in-depth resource on many of the different travel agent training and education opportunities that are available to you.
What Is a Travel Agent Employee?
When we say travel agent employee, we’re referring to travel agents who work for an agency. Someone who fills out a W-2 and clocks in and out.
A travel agent employee stereotype that may pop into your mind is someone sitting at a storefront agency sitting by a globe and wall of brochures waiting for their next walk-in appointment to come in off the street and book a trip to Whereverville This is a VERY outdated depiction of what it’s like to become a travel agent employee! While travel agents may not be in charge of setting their hours, it’s much different than a typical 9-5 grind.
Nora Blum, VP of Travel Leaders 365 clarified the role of the modern-day travel agent employee, “Understand that a career selling travel is not a 9-5 desk job. To be successful you will need to attend training and seminars, networking events, trade shows, and conferences, often in the evenings and weekends. You have to build your confidence because you are selling yourself to potential customers before you sell them a trip.”
Additionally, many travel agencies offer flexible location models. In 2021, for example, nearly half of travel agent employees (47%) worked entirely remotely!
Pros & Cons of Becoming a Travel Agent Employee
Thinking about becoming a travel agent employee? Here are some pros and cons of becoming a travel agent employee:
- Steady/predictable income
- Onboarding and mentoring support
- The agency brings you, clients, you don’t need to find them
- Employee benefits (if/when offered)
- Built-in cohort/ community
- Access to on-site training
- Agencies typically pay for FAM (familiarization) trips
- High producers may receive commission incentives after reaching certain sales thresholds
- An agency may have income caps/ limitations
- Less flexibility with/control over your schedule
- Many agencies require an advisor with experience
- Can’t choose what type of travel to sell or focus on
- Not involved in decisions regarding business operations
- If you decide to go on your own, the clients belong to the agency
How to Become a Travel Agent Employee
The long and short of it? It can be difficult to get hired as a travel advisor without prior experience selling travel.
So how do you get your foot in the door at a travel agency? Here are a few ideas:
- Larger, corporate travel agencies are more likely to have training programs for new advisors. Even if you’d eventually like to sell leisure travel, working as a corporate advisor can help you get your foot in the door. HAR’s job board often has posts for these positions.
- Take the initiative and purchase ASTA’s Roadmap to Becoming a Travel Advisor course to show your future employer you’re serious and have invested in your new career. (Use code HAR149 to save $50!)
- If you have a book of business or a trip ready to be booked, let the agency know. They may be more likely to invest the time and expense it takes to train a new employee if they know you will be bringing in new clients.
- Ask/offer to shadow, assisting advisors with daily tasks like sending out documents and quotes, answering phones, or organizing files.
- Offer to work for minimum wage doing basic tasks on weekends or off hours (with an understanding you’d like to work toward a permanent position).
If you’re going in with no experience, focus on the crossover qualifications you may have, just not in the travel industry specifically. You can consider things like:
- Customer service
- Detail-Oriented/ Planning & Organizational abilities
- Passion for and knowledge of traveling
- Professionalism & relationship building
Those are just a few examples of some of the soft skills you may excel at even if you haven’t applied them directly to selling travel, they are qualities that will translate to becoming a successful travel agent employee.
Want to see more of what travel industry employers are looking for? See our full Travel Jobs Board and sign up for weekly travel job alerts!
Are There Travel Schools to Become a Travel Agent Employee?
Attending a travel agent school is one of several inroads to learning how to become a travel agent, whether you want to become an independent travel agent or a travel agent employee.
Attending a travel school is not a prerequisite to becoming a travel agent employee.
While there are boundless education opportunities for those who want to become independent travel agents, there are more limited options that are geared toward (but not exclusive to!) becoming a travel agent employee.
However, it’s important to note that attending a travel school is not a prerequisite to becoming a travel agent employee, so it’s important to gauge whether a travel school program offers you value in and of itself and/or opens doors to opportunities for becoming an employee.
While there are tons of hospitality and tourism college programs out there, there are not that many travel schools that are specifically focused on becoming a travel advisor.
If a travel school is a route you want to pursue, here are a few options HAR recommends checking out that offer access to instructor guidance along the way (virtual and/or in person!)
1. Los Medanos is the only bachelor's degree-granting school that has a program dedicated to becoming a travel agent that I’m aware of. (Do you know of another one? Drop it in the comments!)
2. Travel Leaders of Tomorrow offers a travel agent school focused (but not exclusive to) people who want to become a travel agent employee for a retail agency.
Becoming a Travel Agent from Home or Working at a Storefront Agency?
So let’s look at the next fork in the road you’ll run across when looking into becoming a travel agent. The first was whether you want to be self-employed or an employee, now you need to consider location.
Regardless of what type of travel agent you want to become—whether it be a travel agent employee or self-employed travel agent—there are (often) options to work from home. (The rare exception to this is for franchise owners if they go with a franchisor who requires a storefront operation.)
Self-EMployed TRAVEL AGENTS
For independent agents, it's unusual to come right out of the gate with a storefront agency. For reference, only 2% of new self-employed travel agents who took HAR’s Travel Agent Survey in 2022 operated a storefront agent. The other 98% were home-based travel agents.
But the choice is yours if you go the self-employed route. Want to work from your home office or kitchen table? Great. Want to open a storefront agency? Great. You can do that too.
EMPLOYEE TRAVEL AGENTS
For a travel agent employee, it will depend on the hiring agency. Some agencies are office-only, some are fully remote, and some offer a hybrid option (part work from, part office). In 2021, only 29% of travel agent employees who took HAR’s annual Travel Agent Survey reported working 100% in the office.
Curious to see what travel agencies' employee positions currently require? Take a look at HAR's full list of travel agent jobs! The wifi icon next to a job means there’s an opportunity to work remotely. As you can see, there are lots of opportunities to work remotely!
Want weekly Jobs Board alerts directly to your inbox? Sign up below!
What are The Legal Requirements to Become a Travel Agent?
You now know the different routes you can take to become a travel agent, but what kind of training and requirements are there? Now it’s time to take a look at what you need to do to become a travel agent.
We’ve got good news for you! In the United States, there are no federal regulations required to become a travel agent. The downside to no legal requirements? There isn’t an exact roadmap we can tell you to follow to become a travel agent.
Now, while there aren’t legal requirements to become a travel agent, there is something you need to have to be recognized as a travel advisor. That one thing is a travel accreditation number, which allows you to earn commissions and special support teams for the travel trade (as opposed to consumer support teams).
With low to no barriers to entry, the good news is that it makes the travel industry inclusive and more accessible to those who want to build a career. The bad news is, there isn’t a perfectly laid out path to becoming a travel agent. We wish it was as simple as taking a course and you’d be on your way!
Which States Have Regulations to Become a Travel Agent?
While there are no federal regulations to become a travel agent, there are four states that do have regulations around selling travel. If you’re an employee, your agency will take care of this. If you’re looking to start your own agency, it’s important to be aware of these regulations.
The regulations are referred to as “Seller of Travel” (SOT) laws, which are intended to provide some consumer protections. The four states that have them are:
And Canadians, you've also got some regulations to follow! You can find more info on Canadian travel advisor regulations here.
If you do plan to set up your shop in one of those four states (or for some reason anticipate a large clientele who are residents of those states), it’s just a piece of information you can tuck away in the back of your brain for later when you start to set up your travel agency.
What are the Education or Certification Requirements to Become a Travel Agent?
Just like our legal requirements, there are no educational standards or certifications required to become a travel agent. In other words, there are no tests you need to pass or classes you need to take in order to start selling travel.
While travel agent education isn’t required, it’s certainly recommended and education options abound (soooooooo many options!) With so many choices available, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with choices or stuck in analysis paralysis.
Here’s a few tips on how to navigate the great wide world of travel agent training.
Travel Agent Education Options At Different Points in Your Journey
For a big picture look at what type of travel agent education you need to become a travel agent, I’m going to break it down into three phases of your career:
1. Industry Exploration: Deciding if the industry is right for you.
2. Agency Startup & Foundations for Self-Employed Agents: Getting the essentials of your agency settled so you can start selling travel.
3. Selling Travel: Learning the ropes of travel sales and booking.
There are different types of education at each step of becoming a travel agent. I think one of the biggest mistakes for new-to-industry self-employed advisors is searching for education in step 3 (selling travel) before having the foundations of their agency set up.
Lucky for you, you won’t make this mistake because you’re reading this next section! :) Here’s a little taste of what kind of education opportunities are out there to become a travel agent.
1. Travel Agent Education for Industry Exploration
If you want to learn more about the industry before jumping in head first, the best bet for you on your journey to becoming a travel agent is to consider an education opportunity that offers a big-picture look at the industry.
- ASTA's Roadmap to Becoming a Travel Advisor Course - $299 or $149 for HAR readers with code HAR149, American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA)
2. Travel Agent Education for Agency Setup & Foundations
If you already know you want to enter the travel industry as a travel entrepreneur, finding education to set up your agency can help you speed along. Here are some resources from Host Agency Reviews:
- 7 Day Setup LITE - free, Host Agency Reviews
- HAR's 7 Day Setup Accelerator Course -$199-399, Host Agency Reviews
3. Getting certified, learning the ropes, and continuing education
Once you get a travel agency set up, then what? While technically you’ve become a travel agent at that point, there’s a lot of education for getting certified, learning the ropes of selling travel, and advancing your learning to ensure you’ll not only become a travel agent, but you'll become a successful one.
Hot Dang, You Know What it Takes to Become a Travel Agent
You made it! Go you. You understand better than the average person what it takes to become a travel agent. In fact, you’re really in the top 10 percentile for sure!
But dang, you’re also probably up to your freaking eyeballs in info. But don’t worry. If you becoming a travel advisor is something you think you want to pursue, check out HAR’s 7 Day Setup.
Believe it or not, this resource merely scratches the surface. HAR 7-Day courses (free or paid options), will help you plumb the depths of information leading you to the resources you need, as you need them to become a travel advisor.
And this, my friend, completes your choose-your-own-adventure! Lost in travel industry wilderness? Have questions on starting up? Want to share heart-wrenchingly adorable pictures of your pet mini pig? Hit me up at Hello@HostAgency Reviews.com