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Travel agents

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Constantly changing airfares and schedules, thousands of available vacation packages and a vast amount of travel information on the Internet can make travel planning frustrating and time-consuming. To sort out the many travel options, tourists and business people often turn to travel agents to assess their needs and help them make the best travel arrangements. Many major cruise lines, resorts and specialty travel groups use travel agents to promote travel packages to millions of people every year.

In general, travel agents give advice on destinations and make arrangements for transportation, hotel accommodations, car rentals, tours and recreation. They also may advise on weather conditions, restaurants, tourist attractions and recreation. For international travel, agents provide information on customs regulations, required papers (passports, visas and certificates of vaccination) and currency exchange rates.

Travel agents consult a variety of published and computer-based sources for information on departure and arrival times, fares and hotel ratings and accommodations. They visit hotels, resorts and restaurants to evaluate their comfort, cleanliness, and the quality of food and service so that they can base recommendations on their own travel experiences or those of colleagues or clients.

Travel agents promote their services, using telemarketing, direct mail and the Internet. They make presentations to social and special-interest groups, arrange advertising displays and suggest company-sponsored trips to business managers. Depending on the size of the travel agency, an agent may specialize by type of travel, such as leisure or business, or destination, such as Europe or Africa.

During vacation seasons and holiday periods, they may be under a great deal of pressure. Many agents, especially those who are self-employed, frequently work long hours. With advanced computer systems and telecommunication networks, some travel agents are able to work at home.

Training and qualifications

The minimum requirement for those interested in becoming a travel agent is a high school diploma or equivalent. Technology and computerization are having a profound effect on the work of travel agents and formal or specialized training is increasingly important. Many vocational schools offer 6-12 week travel agent programs, as well as evening and weekend programs. Travel agent courses are offered in public adult-education programs and in community and four-year colleges. A few colleges offer bachelor's or master's degrees in travel and tourism. Although few college courses relate directly to the travel industry, a college education sometimes is desired by employers to establish a background in fields such as computer science, geography, communication, foreign languages and world history. Courses in accounting and business management also are important, especially for those who expect to manage or start their own travel agencies.

Travel experience is an asset since personal knowledge about a city or foreign country often helps to influence clients' travel plans, as is experience as an airline reservation agent. Patience and the ability to gain the confidence of clients are useful. Travel agents must be well-organized, accurate and meticulous to compile information from various sources and plan and organize their clients' travel itineraries. Good writing, computer and sales skills are other desirable qualifications.

There are no federal licensing requirements for travel agents, but nine states — California, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island and Washington — require some form of registration or certification of retail sellers of travel services.

Job outlook

Employment of travel agents is expected to grow more slowly than the average for all occupations through 2010. New developments will continue to limit the need for travel agents. The Internet increasingly allows people to access travel information from their personal computers, enabling them to research and plan their own trips, make their own reservations and travel arrangements and purchase their own tickets. Further, suppliers of travel services now are able to make their services available through other means, such as electronic ticketing machines and remote ticket printers. Airline companies have put a limit on the amount of commissions they will pay to travel agencies, reducing revenues. However, many consumers still will prefer to use a professional travel agent to ensure reliability, to save time and, in some cases, money.

Projected employment growth stems from increased spending on tourism and business travel over the next decade. The travel business is sensitive to economic downturns and international political crises, when travel plans are likely to be deferred. Therefore, the number of job opportunities for travel agents fluctuates.


Travel agents held about 135,000 jobs in 2000. Experience, sales ability and the size and location of the agency determine the salary of a travel agent. Median annual earnings of travel agents were $25,150 in 2000.

Related links

For information on training opportunities:

American Society of Travel Agents, Education Department, 1101 King St., Alexandria, VA 22314.

For information on certification qualifications:

The Institute of Certified Travel Agents, 148 Linden St., P.O. Box 812059, Wellesley, MA 02181-0012.

Adapted from the Labor Department's Occupational Outlook Handbook.