How to Become an Online Travel Agent: Career Roadmap

Research the requirements to become an online travel agent. Learn about the job description and duties, and read the step-by-step process to start a career in the travel industry.

Should I Become an Online Travel Agent?

When planning a trip, many individuals and organizations turn to travel agents to provide assistance and expertise. Online travel agents use the Internet to communicate with their customers, provide them with transportation and lodging information, and assist them with bookings. They might also plan tour packages and deal with last-minute travel changes and issues.

Generally, travel agents work full-time. They work in office settings and those that work exclusively online may be able to telecommute. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 12% of travel agents are self-employed. While self-employed agents may enjoy more freedom, they also need to generate their own business, build a client base, and keep flexible office hours in order to be financially successful.

Career Requirements

Degree Level High school diploma required; postsecondary education often preferred in tourism or relevant field
Licensure & Certification Some states may require relevant licensure or certification
Experience No experience is required to enter this field
Key Skills Detail-oriented; strong computer, communication, sales and organizational skills
Salary (2014) $37,730 (Mean Annual Wage)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Step 1: Complete a Formal Education Program

Though formal education is not always required, employers and customers are both likely to seek out knowledgeable travel agents with formal training in the field. Individuals who complete education programs might have better insight into the field and an advantage entering the workplace with relevant skills and knowledge. Programs are available at several levels, including certificate, associate's degree, and bachelor's degree level. Certificate programs generally take between 6 months and 1 year to complete and cover subjects such as travel law, customer service, geography, adventure travel, cruises and tours.

Associate's and bachelor's degree programs typically take 2 and 4 years to complete, respectively. Students in these programs complete general education requirements, such as English composition and mathematics, as well as courses focused on travel and tourism. Coursework in these programs may include interpersonal communications, entrepreneurship, business mathematics, destination development, tourism marketing and career management.

Success Tips:

  • Pursue hands-on learning opportunities. Some colleges and universities might offer internships or other supervised work experience options to students. These opportunities are important because they allow students to gain real-world experience in the field and establish possible networking connections.
  • Attain computer knowledge. Travel agents working online must be able to effectively and efficiently use the Internet. Many airlines, hotels and other tourism businesses use electronic reservation systems, so travel agents must learn how to properly navigate these on the behalf of their customers Students should be sure to focus on taking any available computer courses to sharpen their skills.
  • Keep current on travel information. Environmental, political and cultural changes affect travel information. By researching current travel information online, agents can stay knowledgeable about attractions, weather and customs for practically any area in the world.

Step 2: Obtain Licensure

Licensure is needed to work as a travel agent in some states. Some states may refer to this licensure as 'state registration'. Requirements for licensure vary greatly from state to state, so travel agents should research the exact requirements, if any, for their state.

Step 3: Become Certified to Advance Opportunities

While certification is not necessary for online travel agents, having an additional certification may help increase job opportunities and career advancement by showing dedication to the field. Several professional organizations offer certification for travel agents. One example is the Travel Institute, which offers 3 different credentials to choose from: Certified Travel Associate (CTA), Certified Travel Counselor (CTC) or Certified Travel Industry Executive (CTIE). Successful completion of a certification workshop is required to secure these designations. Another option for certification is the Travel and Tourism Professional (TTP) credential, available from the International Airline Transport Association's Training and Development Institute. Three years of experience in the field are required for certification; if the applicant holds a bachelor's degree, the experience requirement is only 2 years.

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