What is the best way to become a travel agent?

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Jul 10, 2017
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#1
I have decided that my skill set, interests, and personality are perfectly cut out to be a travel agent. I would love to do it all online/remote rather than having a brick & mortar store in some strip mall nearby. I've googled and googled, but I can't seem to find any really firm information on what it takes to legitimately call one's self a travel agent. I see AAA classes, and various online courses, but I'm not sure how legit some of those are and if they are enough. I also have read on this site and in the forums about making sure your agent is legit, and I want to show any future clients that I am serious.

So...
A. Is there one particular degree/certification/licensure I need to get? Where is the best place to get that?
B. Is there one particular professional group I should join?
C. Do I have to first work in a larger agency before I can go it on my own? Is there an apprenticeship situation I need to go for?

I know what I want to specialize in-- and I have a business plan. I just want to set myself up for success and take whatever courses or certification requirements I need to really do the best job I can.

Thanks!
 

jsn55

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Dec 26, 2014
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#3
How clever you are to ask for advice first! Neil will give you the lowdown, but I don't think there are any requirements of import ... which is why there are issues with TAs. From experience, I know that you need to be detail oriented to the nth degree, not need much sleep, able to be understanding with a client who refused your advice and now wants your help, have a healthy advertising budget to get launched, be able to draw information out of clients so you can make good suggestions, have a healthy dose of common sense, and be well-travelled before you start the agency.

With the proliferation of internet bookings made by people with no knowledge and the resultant issues, I think the TA business would be a very good one to be in right now. Good luck and please don't hesitate to call upon us as you pursue your goal.
 
Likes: Patina
Jul 10, 2017
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#4
Thank you so much, both of you!

@jsn55, the qualities you list are things I have already done in my previous work! I have event and wedding planning (attention to detail, dealing with difficult clients, friendly) and I also have a M.Ed. in special education so I'm fairly level headed in high stress situations. I have 3 young children of my own, so the idea of sleep is laughable anyway ;) I think many of us want to travel more-- but I have done foreign and domestic trips all of which I have planned myself.

I would really like to focus my work on helping families maximize their family vacation time and help people have great trips w/ kids (hence the name). Hopefully with my experience in child development and raising my own kids along with the attention to detail, LOVE for logistics (drives my husband NUTS), and need for travel, it will be a good fit!

Thanks again, and I look forward to hearing from @Neil !
 
Likes: Patina
Jan 6, 2015
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#5
Thank you so much, both of you!

@jsn55, the qualities you list are things I have already done in my previous work! I have event and wedding planning (attention to detail, dealing with difficult clients, friendly) and I also have a M.Ed. in special education so I'm fairly level headed in high stress situations. I have 3 young children of my own, so the idea of sleep is laughable anyway ;) I think many of us want to travel more-- but I have done foreign and domestic trips all of which I have planned myself.

I would really like to focus my work on helping families maximize their family vacation time and help people have great trips w/ kids (hence the name). Hopefully with my experience in child development and raising my own kids along with the attention to detail, LOVE for logistics (drives my husband NUTS), and need for travel, it will be a good fit!

Thanks again, and I look forward to hearing from @Neil !
Since @Neil has yet to respond, I will share a few things that we see a lot of here.

While not mandatory, travelers will often look for an agent who has traveled a good bit. Not everywhere of course, but enough to have first-hand experience with cruises, international travel (passports, visas, etc.), vacation rentals, etc.

You would also need and extraordinary attention to detail, and be make yourself available 24x7 in case they encounter issues while traveling. Accordingly, you must be willing to be accountable for the bookings with which you assist.

Finally, and this a personal thing with me, an agent must display exceptional patience, calm, and decorum even and especially when a client is angry. While I've only worked with a local agency once, and never needed these particular qualities in that person, it seems logical to me that every agent should have them. Travel these days is very complicated and can be downright maddening at times ...
 
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Neil Maley

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Dec 27, 2014
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#6
I have decided that my skill set, interests, and personality are perfectly cut out to be a travel agent. I would love to do it all online/remote rather than having a brick & mortar store in some strip mall nearby. I've googled and googled, but I can't seem to find any really firm information on what it takes to legitimately call one's self a travel agent. I see AAA classes, and various online courses, but I'm not sure how legit some of those are and if they are enough. I also have read on this site and in the forums about making sure your agent is legit, and I want to show any future clients that I am serious.

So...
A. Is there one particular degree/certification/licensure I need to get? Where is the best place to get that?
B. Is there one particular professional group I should join?
C. Do I have to first work in a larger agency before I can go it on my own? Is there an apprenticeship situation I need to go for?

I know what I want to specialize in-- and I have a business plan. I just want to set myself up for success and take whatever courses or certification requirements I need to really do the best job I can.

Thanks!
It is not as easy as you think to become a travel agent just because you might like to travel.

There aren't really any schools to become a travel agent except through the Travel Institute.

Here are a few questions you need to answer.

1. What makes you think that you can be successful in this field? Do you travel a lot? Have to been on a lot of cruises? How much experience do you have traveling? Where have you been, how have you traveled?

2. Do you know what CLIA or IATA is and how to get one of their numbers to be able to sell?

3. Do you have enough money in an account to pay for an expensive airline ticket or cruise if you make a mistake on a booking?

4. Have you looked into buying errors and omissions insurance for your business?

5. Do you know what countries you need a passport to travel to? Do you know what countries you need a Visa to travel to? Do you know how long a passport needs to be valid for to fly to various countries?

6. Do you know how to quote a cruise? What NCFs are?

7. Do you know a little about every cruise line to be able to fit the client to the cruise line?

8. Do you know how to find out the airport codes for every airport in the world? Are you great at world geography? If a client wants to travel to Rome Italy andvyiu accidentally book them to Rome NY, you are buying a new ticket out of your own pocket.

9. Do you know what an illegal connection is for flying? Do you know what the minimum connection time should be for connecting flights? Do you know what a PNR is?

10. Are you aware of the countries Zika is located in or how to find out what they are?

The best way to learn how to be a travel agent is to find an agency willing to teach you. We started in a brick and mortar agency, then learned about host agencies and moved to a host once we knew how the travel business ran. You will get the experience you need to go out on your own by working in a b and m agency.

This is not a career you can just say you like it and want to do it. You must be extremely detail oriented, anal about ensuring you spell a client name correctly, need to know the 24 hour rules in air tickets, need to contact your local government Offices to see what you need to file to open a business.

You need to get a lawyer to determine if you want to incorporate or become an LLC and the ramifications of each type of entity to make sure you are forming your business properly.

If you want more advice feel free to private message me.
 

jsn55

Verified Member
Dec 26, 2014
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#7
Well, greattrips, Neil has left you quite a daunting list! I'm glad to read that you can get some education through the Travel Institute, and perhaps the two associations he mentions have some 'start-up' info as well. Hopefully answering all these questions for yourself will really help you get going. I agree with Neil, getting some hands-on experience at an established agency would be worth its weight in gold.

I was also thinking that subscribing to a few e-newsletters might be very helpful as well. For example, I get my "loyalty points/miles" information from several sources every morning and it's kinda like reading the AM paper with my coffee.
 
#8
A few words of warning.

A good friend had a small, local travel agency some years ago. She had worked hard and had a few very lucrative corporate clients. The agency got so busy that she hired two part-time agents to help her. You can see where this is leading.

The part-timers worked closely with two of the corporate clients. After a year they left my friend and undercut her fees and relationship with the clients, taking them to their own new agency. Subsequently the clients said "Goodbye" to their new travel agents but by that time my friend had changed directions. She became an auctioneer and still has a thriving auction business.

My point is, be sure to go into any new venture with your eyes wide open. Good luck and follow @Neil 's advice.
 

Neil Maley

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Dec 27, 2014
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#9
This is not an easy business to be in. You have a ton of competition with the internet and if you don't know your stuff you have no value to a consumer. You need to show a consumer you know what you are doing and are talking about and why they need to use you vs. booking on your own. That means having personal experience staying at many resorts and hotels, or many cruise ships so you know the truth about a resort or hotel vs. the perfect picture they show online. If you haven't been there you need to have a gaggle of agent friends who have and who you can call to find out about a property.

Is seems very glamorous but it isn't. And as far as "free travel" - that doesn't exist so don't let anyone tell you you can get free travel by being an agent. It doesn't happen.

George, you friend should have sued those agents. There was a huge story recently about an owner who accidentally found out her agent was booking somewhere else and had stolen clients along with about $25,000 in commission. She pressed charges on the agent and guess where the agent is sitting now? In jail. She pleased guilty to the charges and is now enjoying her free trip to a jail cell.

Too many owners don't prosecute these agents.
 
#10
This is not an easy business to be in. You have a ton of competition with the internet and if you don't know your stuff you have no value to a consumer. You need to show a consumer you know what you are doing and are talking about and why they need to use you vs. booking on your own. That means having personal experience staying at many resorts and hotels, or many cruise ships so you know the truth about a resort or hotel vs. the perfect picture they show online. If you haven't been there you need to have a gaggle of agent friends who have and who you can call to find out about a property.

Is seems very glamorous but it isn't. And as far as "free travel" - that doesn't exist so don't let anyone tell you you can get free travel by being an agent. It doesn't happen.

George, you friend should have sued those agents. There was a huge story recently about an owner who accidentally found out her agent was booking somewhere else and had stolen clients along with about $25,000 in commission. She pressed charges on the agent and guess where the agent is sitting now? In jail. She pleased guilty to the charges and is now enjoying her free trip to a jail cell.

Too many owners don't prosecute these agents.
I'm sure that by now the statute of limitations has run its course and I guess these people didn't do anything in writing or take any fees until they had established their own agency. Anyway, given how tough the travel agency business is today, my friend probably had the last laugh.
 
Likes: Neil Maley
Jul 10, 2017
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#11
I appreciate all the candid advice! I was actually surprised at how much I DID know from Neil's list, though I obviously have more to learn and more places to go! I travel with my family (myself, husband, 3 kids) and alone about 6-7 times a year; sometimes just a few hours away and sometimes long plane rides. So far with the kids we have only traveled domestically, but I have traveled internationally in the past couple of years without them.

I did not know about insurance-- I guess that is something I was hoping would be included in some sort of course. I will definitely look into the Travel Institute possibilities.

I guess my next steps will be to:
A. travel more. I need to take more cruises. I've only been on 2 and I honestly don't like cruising very much. It's not my personal style, and I get pretty sea sick regardless of which medications or prevention methods I have tried (I get seasick when deep sea fishing, too).
B. Look into getting an entry level job at a local agency. That way I can really get a feel for what is included and start getting into the nitty gritty.

Thanks again!

And sorry for your friend, George! It's definitely important to go into any situation with other people with eyes wide open.
 
Likes: jsn55

Patina

Verified Member
Dec 22, 2015
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#12
Good for you! Keep up the enthusiasm because that is what it takes when you are an entrepreneur. There will be those naysayers who 'rain on your parade' while you are working toward your goal, take what they say with a grain of salt and continue to believe in yourself.

Regarding seasickness....did you happen to take bonine? We sailed on a personal sailboat throughout the Caribbean and took it prior to any long passage. It worked wonders for us. We took a half tablet a day or two ahead (twice a day) of departure up until a day after we departed.

Lastly, my husband and I are not the cruising type. I think there are many others in our same boat(!) so I wouldn't be discouraged about that. Many people want to see the world and would love options that are NOT by cruise ships.

Good luck and please give us an update on your progress.
 
Jul 10, 2017
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#14
Thank you so much for the encouragement, @Patina ! I am excited about the possibilities! I am planning to focus on traveling with kids-- working on setting up a blog and social media presence as I hopefully start at a local agency. I have not used bonine-- I have used a couple of prescriptions (patches, pills) and the arm bands (worked great with pregnancy sickness! Not so much on the water). We are cruising in March, so I will grab some before we go. Thank you for the recommendation!

@Neil I can't imagine how people think it would be ok to take agency clients with you-- especially large corporate clients.
 
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Apr 10, 2017
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#15
Good for you! Keep up the enthusiasm because that is what it takes when you are an entrepreneur. There will be those naysayers who 'rain on your parade' while you are working toward your goal, take what they say with a grain of salt and continue to believe in yourself.

Regarding seasickness....did you happen to take bonine? We sailed on a personal sailboat throughout the Caribbean and took it prior to any long passage. It worked wonders for us. We took a half tablet a day or two ahead (twice a day) of departure up until a day after we departed.

Lastly, my husband and I are not the cruising type. I think there are many others in our same boat(!) so I wouldn't be discouraged about that. Many people want to see the world and would love options that are NOT by cruise ships.

Good luck and please give us an update on your progress.
Did you happen to sail around BVI? I wish I had the same luck! Bonine helps me somewhat with motion issues while flying but totally ineffective on the water. The only thing that might work is Rx stuff like Phenergan or Vistaril, which also render me useless. But riverboat cruises are wonderful for me. No motion sickness and no need for meds! I love them for plenty of other reasons too but that's a big one.
 
Likes: jsn55

Patina

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Dec 22, 2015
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#16
Did you happen to sail around BVI? I wish I had the same luck! Bonine helps me somewhat with motion issues while flying but totally ineffective on the water. The only thing that might work is Rx stuff like Phenergan or Vistaril, which also render me useless. But riverboat cruises are wonderful for me. No motion sickness and no need for meds! I love them for plenty of other reasons too but that's a big one.
We did, actually sailed from Savannah Georgia down to Grenada over 5 seasons. Hit all the spots, Bahamas, Turks and Caicos, Puerto Rico, USVI, BVI, Leewards and Windwards.

We found that "boosting" our system with bonine a few days prior is what worked for us rather than just taking it the day of departure because once you start to feel seasick, it is really hard to tamp down.
 
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#17
I am a travel agent at a brick and mortar. It is okay if you aren't a cruise person, although plenty of families do like cruising, so you may lose some business if you aren't into cruising.
There are really two kinds of brick and mortar agents nowadays: general and niche, or specialist.
A general agent works with all destinations. They have to know Mexico, Hawaii, South America, Europe, etc. They have to be up on all the different cruise lines and the primary cruise itineraries.
The niche agent will specialize in a destination or a type of travel-families, disabled travelers, corporate, golf, etc. This is harder in some ways that being a general agent. You will need to establish yourself in that field. You will have to very actively seek out clients. You won't be able to wait for them to find you, so you will need to promote yourself fairly aggressively.
You're best bet is to start working for a Brick and Mortar. Get that experience and training and start formulating your business plan and really learn how to promote yourself.
 

jsn55

Verified Member
Dec 26, 2014
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#18
I have no idea if this is valid in the TA biz, but couldn't you establish a relationship with a really good cruise TA and share commissions? Or set up a 'finder's fee' agreement? I know it's OK in real estate.

I love your idea of concentrating on travel with kids. Read Wendy Perrin's stuff - I read her in CN Traveller for years starting when she was single up through having and travelling with her children. She's been out on her own for several years and she seems to know everybody and where to point people for everything. And of course, keep reading this forum! You'll learn more here, more quickly, than any other source.
 

Neil Maley

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Dec 27, 2014
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#19
Jsn she doesn't want to do cruises. She'll need to know how to book a cruise or lose a lot of bookings.

There are some home based agents that have other agents working for them. We have two outside agents that my wife took on but both had experience and just needed mentoring. But that is extremely hard to do because you need to bring your own customers in to learn how to book them.

If you can get hired by a b and m they have the opportunity to learn from walk in clients. My wife started in a b and m and swears she could not have learned what she learned there on her own.
 
Jul 10, 2017
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#20
Did you happen to sail around BVI? I wish I had the same luck! Bonine helps me somewhat with motion issues while flying but totally ineffective on the water. The only thing that might work is Rx stuff like Phenergan or Vistaril, which also render me useless. But riverboat cruises are wonderful for me. No motion sickness and no need for meds! I love them for plenty of other reasons too but that's a big one.
I didn't sail around BVI-- the Caribbean cruise was just Canaveral-Nassau-some cay--Canaveral.

I did find a semi-local AAA looking for travel consultants. We'll see how that works out.

Thanks, y'all!