Travel Agent Certification---What are your Options?

April 5, 2016
Travel Agent Certification

You’re wondering what type of travel agent certification is out there. That’s funny. I’ve written an article on just that topic! How handy.

Let’s make sure we’re clear about what this article is and what it is not about: It IS about travel agent certification. It IS NOT about travel agency numbers/travel agency accreditations (more on travel agency accreditations). It IS NOT about travel agent training. What’s the difference between travel agency training and certification? Well, it’s a blurry line so we decided to make our own lines in the sandbox. When we say "certification," this is what we mean:

  1. something comes from organizations whose education programs specialize in travel industry exclusively
  2. a comprehensive training program, not just a specific destination or vendor
  3. education that is not provided by a vendor, destination, or travel agency

Are you looking for other kinds of training and education? Super good news. We talk about host education and travel schools over at this here article

When it comes to certification, we’re also going to be selective. The travel agent certifications we mention aren’t the only certification or training program for travel agents—you can find plenty more. What we want are organizations that are active in the travel agent community at large.

What constitutes an organization that is “active in the agent community?” For our purposes, it means they attend travel agent events, they provide resources and tools beneficial to agents, I know them or have met someone that vouches for them. As a caveat, I'll mention this article isn't an endorsement of any of the programs—think of it more as a vetted list!

I believe that an active organization = having a pulse on things. An out of touch organization is the last thing I want associated with a travel agent certification program! Therefore, organizations that I haven’t seen active in the community got the axe. Sorry.

The Basics of Certification

Travel Agent Certification Basics

First things first; understand that there is no universal travel agent certification. If you found a site that suggests you need to take their course in order to become a travel agent, run the other direction! There are no travel agent certifications required by law in the US and most of Canada.

Here’s how it works: In the travel industry (especially for the US), there is no formalized process to become a travel agent. This means there is no national board exam you need to pass, no state certification requirements (although, make sure you’re familiar with the US and Canadian licensing and seller of travel laws).

That can be great—anyone can break into the industry regardless of education, finances, or location. On the other hand, anytime ‘anyone’ is involved, by default you get… how shall we say this? A wide range of capabilities. Translation: you’ll have some really unqualified people calling themselves travel agents. Boo. (But hey, let's be honest! This applies to any industry, including those with rigorous requirements to get through the gates.)

But you take the good with the bad—that’s the upside and the downside of an industry with a low barrier to entry.

TICO logo
Note: Travel agents in Ontario, Canada, you’re the odd ball out. All agents and supervisors/managers must take the Travel Industry Council of Ontario(TICO) exam. It currently rings up at $35 CAD.

Travel Agent Certification Programs, Fun Acronyms

Eeek! The travel agent certification programs we’re going to mention—and we've got a few of them—involve acronyms, fun! Stephanie Lee, MCC, CTC, CTIE … awesome! Mmm, I love me some acronyms.

The Travel Institute Travel Agent Certifications

The Travel Institute Travel Agent Certifications

With nearly 50 years under their belt, The Travel Institute holds the prize for the longest running travel agent certification program. They’ve got a few programs, each focusing on agents at different stages in their career. These certifications are used by travel agents across the industry—cruise, corporate, luxury, leisure. Here's a few of their certifications below:

Certified Travel Associate (CTA)

Certified Travel Associate (CTA) Travel Agent Certification
  1. Description: Agent must have 18 months experience in the industry and are required to take 8 core classes, 4 electives. (This is a prerequisite for the CTC certification, listed below).
  2. Time to Complete: Most agents can finish within 3-6 months but have up to 12 months
  3. Cost: $350 for complete course (with added fees if you want to pay in monthly installments); $250 for test only (must have 18 months experience)
  4. Maintenance: To maintain certification, agents must earn 10 continuing education credits (CEUs) a year.

Certified Travel Counsellor (CTC)

Certified Travel Counsellor (CTC) Travel Agent Certification
  1. Description: Agents must have 5 years experience in the industry and a CTA designation. The CTC is a management skills program designed for travel agents looking to build or grow their business. Curriculum consists of 10 courses on key topics and the completion of a "white paper" 2000-3000 words in length.
  2. Time to Complete: Most agents can finish within 6-9 months but have up to 12 months
  3. Cost: $550 complete course, or $600 for CTC Fast Track (for agents with 5 years of experience, but who don't have a CTA certification); test only is $320.
  4. Maintenance: To maintain certification, agents must earn 10 continuing education credits (CEUs) a year.

Certified Travel Industry Executive (CTIE)

Certified Travel Industry Executive (CTIE) Travel Agent Certification
  1. Description: This designation is for non-consumer sales roles with 5+ years of experience. It is equivalent to the CTC. Curriculum consists of (100) videos 10-15 minutes in length and the completion of a white paper 2000-3000 words in length.
  2. Time to Complete: 18 months
  3. Cost: $550 to complete course ($320, test only)
  4. Maintenance: Student must commit to annual Travel Institute membership and agents must earn 10 continuing education credits (CEUs) a year.
TAP Test: This one is a bit confusing, but I want to mention the Travel Agent Proficiency (TAP) test offered by The Travel Institute (Cost: $95). This is not a travel agent certification—think of it like a final exam for a Travel Agent 101 course. No degree comes with it, but you’re learning. Also important to note, the TAP test is offered by institutions outside The Travel Institute.

Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) Travel Agent Certifications

Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) Travel Agent Certification

CLIA’s travel agent certification program dishes out four power-packed acronyms-induced certifications that depend on the agent’s familiarization with ships. To gain accreditation, an agent must first be a member of CLIA. As the CLIA affiliation would suggest, this is a travel agent certification program geared towards agents specializing in cruises. This is a certification heavy on hands-on experiences.

Accredited Cruise Counsellor (ACC)

CLIA Accredited Cruise Counsellor (ACC) Travel Agent Certification
  1. Description: 100 credits total—30 from required trainings, 50 from electives, 20 credits from product knowledge requirements being met.
  2. Product Knowledge Requirements: Must be a CLIA affiliated agent; take one 2-6 day cruise and one 7+ day cruise; complete 5 shipboard inspections; book and deposit 25 staterooms (must be on all of CLIA's member lines)
  3. Time to Complete: 2 years
  4. Cost: $70 enrollment/re-enrollment fee + course fees + ship inspections fees (if any) + cost of cruises

Master Cruise Counsellor (MCC)

CLIA Master Cruise Counsellor (MCC) Travel Agent Certification
  1. Description: Must have ACC certification. Course completion requires 100 credits total—50 from required trainings, 30 from electives, 20 credits from product knowledge requirements being met.
  2. Product Knowledge Requirements: Take two 7+ day cruises (on lines not utilized for your ACC); complete 3 shipboard inspections not utilized for your ACC; 40 staterooms booked/deposited within 2 years. (must all be on CLIA member lines)
  3. Time to Complete: 2 years
  4. Cost: $70 enrollment/re-enrollment fee + course fees + ship inspections fees (if any) + cost of cruises

Elite Cruise Counsellor (ECC)

CLIA Elite Cruise Counsellor Travel Agent Certification
  1. Description: Must have MCC certification. Complete any 10 live or online CLIA seminars and exams (those taken for MCC or ACC are acceptable), 20 credits from product knowledge requirements being met.
  2. Product Knowledge Requirements: Take one 7+ day cruise on lines not utilized for your ACC or MCC; complete 5 shipboard inspections on different ships from your ACC or MCC (maybe same member line, but different ships); 50 staterooms booked/deposited within two-year enrollment period. (must all be on CLIA member lines)
  3. Time to Complete: 2 years
  4. Cost: $70 enrollment/re-enrollment fee + course fees + ship inspections fees (if any) + cost of cruises

Elite Cruise Counsellor Scholar (ECCS)

CLIA Elite Scholar Travel Agent Certification
  1. Editor's note: As of Feb. 2016 (when this post was updated) the ECCS program was on hiatus. We'll be sure to include the info as soon as we know more!

Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) Certifications

Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) Travel Agent Certification

 The GBTA is the front runner in the industry when it comes to corporate (ahem, business) travel. Being corporate-minded, it's also no surprise they also have an independent board whose purpose is to "administer a valid, reliable, defensible, and psychometrically sound examination."

I had to look up the definition of psychometrically. I wanted to make sure I wasn't sending people to a program where they are psychologically tortured. We're good, don't worry! :)

Here is the GBTA accreditation option:

Global Travel Professional (GTP)

Global Travel Professional (GTP) Travel Agent Certification
  1. Description: This is the travel agent certification for those focused on business travel management. It gauges a travel agent’s competency in four different “domains:” Strategic business planning; buyer/supplier relations; travel program administration; and Data/Analytics/Finance. Since it’s a global program, the GTP accreditation is not limited to travel agents in the US/ Canada.
  2. Pre-requisites: The official stance is the program is only for agents with "a minimum of three years of business travel related experience." Don't let that dissuade you if you've never had the title "travel manager". If you've been booking travel for your company as an admin assistant for three years, you've got the experience!
  3. Cost: $350 GBTA members, $450 for nonmembers. I hate to bombard you with yet more acronyms, but current CCTE (Certified Corporate Travel Executives), SMMC (Strategic Management Meetings Certification), CGTE (Certified Government Travel Executive), and GLP (Global Leadership Professional) holders can take the exam for free.
  4. Time to Complete: Must apply for a exam date/location. Test centers allot 3 hours to take the exam.
  5. Maintenance: GTP holders must re-certify every three years by earning 50 re-certification credits. This is done by showing involvement in professional development activities or by passing another GTP exam.

To Certify or Not to Certify? That Is the Question. 

I’m often asked if an agent should go through a travel agent certification course before they start their agency. That’s the million dollar question—to certify or not to certify. First, keep in mind this site specializes in working with agents—many of whom are new to the industry—that are aligned with host agencies.

In travel, training is plentiful but also (very) fragmented. You can get training through your host agency, franchise and/or consortia. Suppliers, destinations, and associations have boatloads of trainings for you; travel schools—both on and offline—have trainings to help you learn the ropes. It’s like the toothpaste aisle at Target, the options can be overwhelming.

Here’s my thought on getting a travel agent certification: To avoid wasting money and time, get your toes wet first and see if you even like the industry. Join a host agency, make a few bookings, try your hand at being an entrepreneur and travel agent—it’s not for everyone. If you do like it, I say certification is a great way to network, expand your knowledge base, and get a cute (yet professional) lil’ acronym to put after your name!

Broadcast those Certifications!

Whether it is a certification we mentioned above, a destination or vendor specific training certification or maybe Host Agency Reviews' own 7-Day Setup Certificate (hint, hint), make sure you let the world know! It shows you've been busy and are dedicated in furthering your education and network in the travel industry. When you earn a new certification, push out to your various social media channels and definitely add it to the certification section of your LinkedIn profile!

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published March 24, 2013 and was completely updated and revamped on April 5, 2016 to make sure we’re giving you up-to-date info. Enjoy!

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About the Author

Steph Lee

Steph grew up in the travel industry. She worked with thousands of agents in her role as a former host agency director before leaving in 2012 to start HAR. She's insatiably curious, loves her pup Rygy, and is -- let's face it -- kinda quirky.

If you’re looking for Steph, she's leaves a trace where ever she goes! You can find her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and Pinterest as 'iamstephly'. 🙂