Travel agents help clients make travel, transportation, lodging and touring arrangements. A certificate or associate's degree in travel, tourism or hospitality is generally all that is required to become a travel agent. Many travel agencies require potential travel agents to begin as reservation clerks or travel receptionists before becoming agents. With sufficient experience, clerks and receptionists can quickly become travel agents.
Although there are no required licenses or certifications for travel agents, many attend workshops and continuing education courses to keep updated on trends and changes in the travel industry. Job candidates with experience traveling to diverse destinations and an interest in travel-related fields like languages or geography may be more desirable to travel agencies.
A travel agent certificate program is generally a 1-semester program that focuses specifically on the duties of travel agents. Students learn to communicate with travel and transportation companies, organize travel arrangements and find appropriate travel information for clients. A certificate program is basic and prepares students for entry-level travel agent opportunities. Courses may include:
- Trends in travel industry
- Customer service in travel
- Travel marketing
- Computer use in travel
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Associate Degree Program
An associate's degree in travel and tourism is more comprehensive and can lead to other careers than as a travel agent. However, travel agents can benefit from the greater scope of travel and tourism concepts that are taught in 2-year degree programs. Instead of focusing on the duties of a travel agent, a travel associate's degree program teaches students how the tourism industry operates as a whole. Courses may include:
- Travel management
- Hospitality operations
- International travel and tourism
- Tourism development and planning
- Hospitality information systems
Travel agents use technology to set travel arrangements and gather travel information. Therefore, travel agents must be comfortable with significant computer use. They must also be courteous and organized.
Many travel agencies require agents to occasionally enroll in continuing education courses to keep up with changes in the travel industry. Customs, travel regulations and travel advisories are constantly changing, so agents must be able to keep their travel knowledge current and relevant. The American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) holds conferences, expos and seminars each year in locations throughout the country. Conferences allow travel agents to network with other travel professionals, learn industry trends and learn more about specific travel destinations. These conferences usually last 3-4 days and allow travel agents to sight see in their free time. In addition, ASTA holds virtual seminars for travel agents who are unable to attend in-person events. The National Association of Career Travel Agents (NACTA) also holds workshops and seminars in various travel destinations. NACTA offers 'seminars at sea,' which allow travel agents to learn more about the industry while staying on a cruise ship or at a beachside resort. NACTA also has local chapters throughout the country that hold weekly or monthly meetings.
Travel agents are not required to be licensed or certified. Travel agents looking to start their own agency, however, must obtain approval from various travel and transportation organizations, including the Airlines Reporting Corporation and the International Airlines Travel Agency Network.
Although there are no formal education requirements, many travel agencies prefer their employees to have some level of formal training. Associate's degrees can help lead to other jobs in the field and continuing education helps agents keep up with changes in the industry.