Travel Agent Certification---What are your Options?

February 28, 2020

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 (more on travel agent training and education). 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

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.

Here's a sneak preview of what's to come! (But read on because we have LOADs more info on certification programs that will follow the infographic).


Are you looking for other kinds of training and education? Super good news. We talk about all forms of travel agent training and education here.


The Basics of Travel Agent 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.

Next up? A breakdown of travel agent certification programs—also known as "acronym fun." 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.

ASTA's VTA Travel Agent Certification Program


ASTA Verified Travel Advisor (VTA), 2020

Having just launched in 2017, ASTA's (American Society of Travel Advisors) VTA program is the new kid on the block in terms of certifications. However, established in 1931, ASTA is the largest and longest-standing travel association in the industry. It's a household name among travel industry professionals, and advisors who are VTA certified will get their seal of approval. ASTA's VTA focuses on cultivating a level of professionalism among its certified agents. It focuses on topics such as industry ethics, legal regulation competency, in addition to tried and true topics like marketing and sales.

The other perk of being VTA certified? You pull to the top in the travel advisor search results on TravelSense.org, ASTA's consumer lead program website. Chalking up 700,000 consumer visits annually in 2019, your VTA credentials give you a ton more exposure!


Pre-requisites:

You don't need to be an ASTA member to enroll in their VTA program. However, the only prerequisite for the VTA program is to qualify for their membership. To fulfill this requirement, independent contractors (their base-level membership) is to be based in U.S. and earn less than 1 million in sales annually (if you earn more, you will qualify for a different level of membership). (Read more details on their member qualifications here.)


Cost:

Here's the cost breakdown for ASTA's VTA program:

  1. $399 for ASTA members
  2. $598 for non-member independent contractors (this includes 1 year ASTA IC membership)
  3. $729 for non-member Travel Advisor (includes 1 year ASTA agency membership); $179 for recertification.


Time to Complete:

The program can be done at your own pace, but must be completed within 12 months of enrollment.


Maintenance:

VTA advisors must re-certify every two years. This involves a $179 recertification fee for two additional courses or one course and participation in ASTA Operational Excellence through Benchmarking program (to be completed within 12 months).


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)


Travel Agent Certifications The Travel Institute
  1. Description: Agent must have 12 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). At program's end, you must pass the CTA exam with a 70% score, at minimum.
  2. Time to Complete: Most agents can finish within 3-6 months but have up to 12 months
  3. Cost: $450 for complete online course (with an added $25 fee if you want to pay in monthly installments). The print course is $550 plus shipping. $250 for test only (must have 12 months experience).
  4. Maintenance: To maintain certification, agents must earn 10 continuing education credits (CEUs) a year.

Certified Travel Counsellor (CTC)

Travel Agent Certifications The Travel Institute
  1. Description: Agents must have 5 years experience in the industry and a CTA designation (testing out is available). 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)

Travel Agent Certifications The Travel Institute
  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 also offered by institutions outside The Travel Institute.


Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) Travel Agent Certifications


CLIA 2020 Image


CLIA’s travel agent certification program dishes a whopping 5 power-packed acronyms-induced certifications that depend on the agent’s familiarization with ships and agency role. To gain certification, 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 (with exception of one travel-management certification). This certification emphasizes hands-on experiences. Their certification attainment is progressive, and are listed in the order you must attain them (again, with exception of the travel agency executive program). For all programs, you must provide a signed letter of verification from your CLIA agency that you’re in good standing. 


Certified Cruise Counselor (CCC)

  1. Description/ Course requirements: This certification is for individuals who'd like to explore the cruise industry or are a new travel agent looking to expand their cruise business. Participants must complete/ pass 8 mandatory courses and complete 30 elective credits.
  2. Product Knowledge Requirements: Participants must complete/ pass 8 mandatory courses and complete 30 elective credits. Additionally, they must complete one live or virtual ship inspection; book 5 (CLIA) staterooms; and attend (at least) one personal cruise for 2+ nights.
  3. Time to Complete: 18 months from date of enrollment
  4. Cost: $89 Cost does not include applicable enrollment/re-enrollment fees, course of conference fees, ship inspections or cost of cruises.
  5. Maintenance: In order to maintain certification, agent must be an active IAM member. If there is a membership lapse, agent may need to pay a reinstatement fee.


Accredited Cruise Counsellor (ACC)

  1. Description/ Course requirements: 120 credits total—40 from mandatory training and 80 from electives. (Having a CTA designation counts toward 10 elective credits). In addition to credits, agents must also meet product knowledge requirements (see below).
  2. Product Knowledge Requirements: 5 ship inspections; 2 personal cruises (at least 2 nights in length); book/deposit at least 20 staterooms (you can count bookings up to 3 months prior to enrollment). All product knowledge requirements must take place on a CLIA cruise line and must be booked through a CLIA-member agency.
  3. Time to Complete: 2 years
  4. Cost: $89 Cost does not include applicable enrollment/re-enrollment fees, course of conference fees, ship inspections or cost of cruises.
  5. Maintenance: In order to maintain certification, agent must be an active IAM member. If there is a membership lapse, agent may need to pay a reinstatement fee.


Master Cruise Counsellor (MCC)

  1. Description/ Course requirements: Must have ACC certification. Course completion requires 140 credits total—90 from required trainings and 40. Additionally, participants must meet product knowledge requirements. Which brings us to . . .
  2. Product Knowledge Requirements: Take two 7+ day cruises (On lines not utilized for your ACC, must be two different destination itineraries, but can be cruises from year prior to enrollment); complete 3 shipboard inspections not utilized for your ACC; 32 staterooms booked/deposited within 2 years. (must all be on CLIA member lines)
  3. Time to Complete: 2 years
  4. Cost: $89 Cost does not include applicable enrollment/re-enrollment fees, course of conference fees, ship inspections or cost of cruises.
  5. Maintenance: In order to maintain certification, agent must be an active IAM member. If there is a membership lapse, agent may need to pay a reinstatement fee.


Master Cruise Counsellor Experiential Learning Program (ELP)

  1. Description/ Course requirements: 100 credits of live or online courses/seminars. Complete 1 CLIA certificate program, attend 1 CLIA live/virtual training events; attend 1 CLIA Cruise360 conference; attain 3 CLIA training programs; and write one comprehensive 3-5 page paper.
  2. Product Knowledge Requirements: Take four, 7+ night cruises on separate product/ destination and book/deposit 100 staterooms.
  3. Time to Complete: 2 years
  4. Cost: $219 Cost does not include applicable enrollment/re-enrollment fees, course of conference fees, ship inspections or cost of cruises.
  5. Maintenance: In order to maintain certification, agent must be an active IAM member. If there is a membership lapse, agent may need to pay a reinstatement fee.


Elite Cruise Counsellor (ECC)

  1. Description/ Course Requirements: Course requirements are 6-fold. 1. Must have MCC certification. 2. Complete any 3 of 5 online courses, live seminars or certificate programs. 3. Complete a CLIA certificate program (not applied toward other requirements). 4. Complete 50 elective training credits, which can be attained by a combo of additional certificate program, attendance at CLIA360, 5 additional courses/seminars, completion of approved industry partner training. 5. Participate in an industry impact activity during completion term (e.g. environment advocacy and/or natural disaster relief). 6. Meet product knowledge requirements (below)
  2. Product Knowledge Requirements: Take one 10+ night cruise on lines not utilized for your ACC or MCC; complete 2 live or CLIA-provided virtual ship inspections on different ships from your ACC or MCC (maybe same member line, but different ships); 60 staterooms booked/deposited within two-year enrollment period. (must all be on CLIA member lines)
  3. Time to Complete: 2 years
  4. Cost: $89 Cost does not include applicable enrollment/re-enrollment fees, course of conference fees, ship inspections or cost of cruises.
  5. Maintenance: In order to maintain certification, agent must be an active IAM member. If there is a membership lapse, agent may need to pay a reinstatement fee.


travel agency executive (TAE)

  1. Description/ Course Requirements: Unlike the above certifications, this program is for management-level travel agency professionals with a current CLIA-affiliate agency. Participants must serve as a travel professional in the role of executive, director, accounting manager, marketing manager, e-commerce manager, or someone who works in a leadership capacity. Participants must complete 6 mandatory courses and elective training. Elective training is fulfilled through completing 3 additional courses or designation of CTA or CTIE from the Travel Institute (see above). Elective training is waived for those who can document they have an undergraduate or graduate degree in business or a related field.
  2. Personal Cruise Experience: Take 2 CLIA-cruise line cruises (duration of cruise unspecified).
  3. Time to Complete: 2 years
  4. Cost: $89 Cost does not include applicable enrollment/re-enrollment fees, course of conference fees, ship inspections or cost of cruises.
  5. Maintenance: In order to maintain certification, agent must be an active IAM member. If there is a membership lapse, agent may need to pay a reinstatement fee.


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!


⭐️ Don't Miss HAR's Travel Agent Training & Education Series! ⭐️

  1. Travel Agent Training and Education: This is the motherboard for all travel agent training options.
  2. A Guide to Host Agency and Consortia Education: Details on host and consortia education, plus a comparison chart.
  3. Travel Agent Schools, A Complete Guide: Want to look into a degree program or a professional certificate? Go here!


About the Author
Steph Lee - Host Agency Reviews

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 pups Rygy and Fennec, and -- in case you haven't noticed -- is kinda quirky.

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