Is a Career in Travel Right for You?
By Connie Miller, Your Travel Center/Montecito Village Travel
The demand for qualified travel agents is greater than ever. At the same time more and more seasoned agents are reaching retirement age, making it the perfect time to consider a travel career.
As the Business Development Manager for a successful host agency, I visit daily with those new to the industry. A typical day goes like this… the phone rings and the person on the other end of the line says, “Hi, my name is Samantha and I’m interested in learning how to become a travel agent.” Since our agency is best suited for the experienced agent, I pause a bit and ask and then ask the person on the other end of the line why they want to join our amazing industry.
Invariably the answer is the same… “I love to travel and have traveled extensively… my friends all come to me to plan their trips… I love the research and helping others.” Most successful travel agents get into the business with these motivators, however, not everyone becomes successful. At this point in the conversation I feel compelled to point these enthusiasts in the right direction and I spend time with them, answering questions and offering advice.
So, how do you get into an industry where experience is needed and the days of being hired by an agency that offered on-the-job training are gone? It requires work, discipline and facing the facts:
FACT 1: You don’t know what you don’t know. No matter how many trips you have planned, how good think you are, there are things— important things—about planning travel you don’t know. This is not a career where you can wing it. The solution?
- Enroll in a good travel school. One that is current and relevant to your learning style. My personal preference is one that offers online learning and a virtual class environment however there are good online only classes too. (Click here for ASTA’s listing of travel schools.)
- Work with a host agency whose business model revolves around those new to the industry. These hosts will provide relevant training. In making your selection, be sure to ask lot of questions about their role in your success and how support is provided. Additionally make sure they are reputable (a good indicator is if the agency is a member of PATH — the Professional Association of Travel Hosts). Ask for references.
- Apply to local travel agencies to see if they accept entry level people or have support roles that will allow you to “learn on the job.” These opportunities are more difficult to come by but sometimes exist.
FACT 2: You can’t know it all, so find your FOCUS. Understand that you cannot be everything to everyone – find a focus, preferably one that resonates with you and your potential clients. Then educate yourself. Opportunities exist in a variety of ways:
- Industry, Consortia, Supplier & Tourist Board Training Courses — Training in the industry abounds. There are excellent classes available via The Travel Institute as well as from industry suppliers (think cruise lines and tour operators such as Apple Vacations, Globus, etc.) and Tourist Boards. Consider the following sources:
- The Travel Institute provides classes on destinations, suppliers, and sales classes focusing on lifestyles and product type. It is an independent organization.
- Consortia Training is available when you or your agency belongs to a travel consortia. Be sure to ask what is available.
- Suppliers provide online education on their products and the destinations they serve and most have their own “certification” courses that offer added benefits to the agents and/or their clients (i.e. bonus commission, discounted personal travel, industry designations etc.).
- Tourist Boards work in a similar manner as suppliers with many offering destination certifications.
- Travel — While some people sell travel without personal knowledge of the destination, it behooves you to know your specialty intimately. For example, if your niche is destination weddings in the Caribbean, then it is important to spend time visiting wedding venues and resorts in the Caribbean.
- Certification Classes — Industry certification is a hotly debated topic. Do you need certification to be successful? The choice is yours. Although there is no criteria in the United States to hold an industry certification (CTA, CTC, ACC, MCC, CTIE, etc.), doing so provides you, the agent, a better understanding of the industry and is indicative of a professional. It’s important to note that in most cases there are requirements regarding length of time in the industry and continuing CEUs to maintain your certification status. For a good article reviewing industry accreditations, click “here.”
FACT 3: Booking travel is different (and easier). Travel agents have access to suppliers that put the pieces together for you. By using reputable suppliers, you can source all components – hotels/resorts, car rental or transfers, activities, airfare, etc. – at a lower price point for your client and a higher commission for you. Plus, you can still add unique experiences and extra touches to personalize your client’s experience. Truly a win/win situation. Embrace the change and learn your suppliers.
FACT 4: Travel is a business; it requires HARD work and patience. Regardless if you are an agency employee or an independent contractor, you are working on commission. This means you run your own business. Be prepared to market yourself, network, and budget your time and money.
Still interested? Good. While starting out in travel may seem like the proverbial “chicken or the egg” conundrum, it can be the career of a lifetime. Having personally been in the business twice (for a total of 22 years), I can personally attest that travel gets in your blood and gives purpose to your life. The fast-track to success is industry knowledge and training, a good mentor and an open mind coupled with hard work and realistic expectations.
Article written by Connie Miller, VP of Business Development, Your Travel Center/Montecito Village Travel, Santa Barbara, CA
Your Travel Center is a host agency with over 500 Independent Contractors, several branch offices and $200,000,000 in annual sales. Connie is responsible for developing Independent Contractors and Agencies. Her career includes work as Sales and Marketing Director, Corporate Travel Account Manager, Office Manager, Group Travel Coordinator and Travel Consultant. Connie's passion for travel is evident and it underscores her personal philosophy is travel is the perfect way to bring the peoples of the world together.