Travel Agents Overview

Due to the travel benefits that come along with the occupation, many people are attracted to a career as a travel agent. The best job opportunities should be expected for those who have received a certificate at a vocational school, or an associates, bachelors or masters degree in tourism and travel. Those who specialize in specific destinations and types of travel or travelers should also enjoy great employment opportunities. A decline in job opportunities may arise in times when travel is less likely, such as during economic downturns and international crises.

Nature of the Work for Travel Agents

Travel Agents

Travel agents help their clients to make the best possible travel arrangements. They offer assistance in sifting through the large amounts of information available and offer advice on destinations. They also arrange hotel accommodations, transportation, tours and car rentals for their clients. Resorts and specialty travel groups enlist travel agents to promote travel packages to their clients. Common advice that travel agents provide to their clients about their destination include information on weather conditions, attractions, exhibitions and local ordinances. Travel agents will also provide information such as customs regulations, required documents, currency exchange rates and travel advisories to clients who are traveling internationally. Travel agents intercede on the traveler’s behalf and make alternate arrangements, in the event of changes in the itinerary during the trip.

Using a wide array of computer-based and published sources, travel agents find information on departure and arrival times, quality of hotel accommodations, group discounts and fares. Travel agents may evaluate the cleanliness and comfort of resorts, restaurants and hotels by visiting them so they can base their recommendations on their own experiences. Travel agents may specialize in a specific destination or region, or they may target a particular demographic, such as families.

Travel agents employed by tour operators and other travel arrangers sometimes help in the creation, arrangement and sales of the company’s own travel services and package tours. These services may be promoted through direct mail, telemarketing and the Internet. Travel agents also make presentations to special-interest and social groups, suggest company-sponsored trips to business supervisors and arrange advertising displays.

Travel agents typically work more than a 40-hour workweek. They spend the majority of their time on the telephone and computer, performing research on travel itineraries and updating travel documents and reservations. They also spend a lot of time behind their desk, talking with clients, contacting hotels and airlines to make travel arrangement and promoting tours. Travel agents may face a considerable amount of pressure during travel emergencies or during the rescheduling of missed reservations. During the summer and holiday seasons, which are peak vacation times, many travel agents are especially busy. As technology continues to grow, many agents will become self-employed and work from home.

Training, Other Qualifications and Advancement for Travel Agents

Most employers prefer to hire applicants who have received travel agent training. There are many full-time programs offered at vocational schools that offer travel agent certificates. Certificates for travel agents may also be offered online, in community colleges and at public adult education programs. Sales, marketing, geography and travel industry forms and procedures for reservations and ticketing are common courses for travel agents.

Some colleges offer an associates degree, bachelors degree or masters degree in tourism and travel management that some agents choose to take. Job applicants are also encouraged to have a background in foreign languages, geography or world history because employers value those with an existing interest in travel and culture.

Travel agents are expected to be experts in their field because of the abundance of travel information already available to consumers through the Internet and other sources. For this reason, continuing education is critical to the success of a travel agent.

Other qualifications for travel agents include strong attention to detail and good organization skills in order to collect information from a variety of sources. Excellent communication skills and a professional and courteous demeanor is also a vital, as travel agents often have to communicate with clients and travel representatives.

Travel agents can help influence a client’s travel plans through relating their personal travel experiences in a city or foreign country. For this reason, personal travel experience is an asset for a travel agent. Self-employed travel agents should have business training or experience. Because most travel arrangements are made through the Internet or electronic reservation systems, computer skills are a necessity for travel agents.

Some travel agents begin their careers as receptionists or reservation clerks in travel agencies, and then take on more responsibilities similar to travel agent duties. Already established travel agents may move on to busier offices or become the office manager.

Because travel agents who start their own agencies need to gain formal approval from corporations or suppliers, they generally have prior experience working at an established agency. For example, self-employed travel agents must gain approval from the Airlines Reporting Corporation and the International Airlines Travel Agency Network, the approving bodies for airlines. Criteria for gaining approval include having a financially sound agency that employs at least one experienced travel agent or manager.

Top 10 Most Popular Tourism & Travel Management Schools

1. SUNY Maritime College (Bronx, New York)
2. University of Hawaii, Manoa (Honolulu, Hawaii)
3. Travel Institute of the Pacific (Honolulu, Hawaii)
4. George Washington University, Washington DC (Washington, District of Columbia)
5. Texas A & M University (College Station, Texas)
6. CUNY LaGuardia Community College, Long Island City (Long Island City, New York)
7. Florida International University (Miami, Florida)
8. Saint Louis Community College, Forest Park (Saint Louis, Missouri)
9. MBTI Business Training Institute (San Juan, Puerto Rico)
10. Indiana University - Purdue University, Indianapolis (Indianapolis, Indiana)

See All Tourism & Travel Management Schools

Most Popular Online Tourism & Travel Management Schools

1. Purdue University Global
2. Ashworth College - Online School
3. University of Arizona Global Campus
4. Strayer University - Online School
5. Columbia Southern University
6. California University of Pennsylvania - Online School
7. Central Penn College, Online

Employment and Job Outlook for Travel Agents

Number of People in Profession


Changing Employment (2008-2018)

Employment is projected to little or no change (decrease or increase by 2%).

Travel agents held about 105,300 jobs in May 2008 and are found in every part of the country. About 76 percent worked for travel arrangement and reservation services with 60 percent in travel agencies. Another 17 percent were self-employed.

Travel agents hold approximately 105,300 jobs and close to 76 percent work for the travel arrangement and reservation services, with 60 percent in travel agencies. About 17 percent are self employed.

Travel agents should expect an employment decline of about 1 percent over the next decade. This is mainly due to the plethora of travel information on the Internet available on airline and travel Web sites that help people research and plan their own trips, set up their own reservations and purchase their own tickets. Despite this, more travelers will be taking customized and exotic trips that create a demand for specialized services offered by travel agents. Tour agents who organize and sell tours to international visitors is expected to increase along with the number of international visitors to the United States.

The best employment opportunities will be enjoyed by travel agent applicants who have a certificate, associates, bachelors or masters degree. Also, those who specialize in a particular group or destination should expect the best opportunities for success.

During time of international crises and economic downturns, travel plans are deferred more frequently, which causes the demand for travel agents to decline. For this reason, employment prospects for travel agents vary during changing global and economic conditions. Job openings will become available as a result of agents who retire or leave for other occupations.

Earnings and Salary for Travel Agents

The salary of a travel agent varies by sales ability, experience and the size and location of the agency. The median annual wage of travel agents is $30,790. The highest 10 percent earn more than $47,370 and the lowest 10 percent earn less than $19,240. The middle 50 percent earn between $24,180 and $38,370. Those employed in the travel arrangement and reservation services industry have a median wage of $30,470.

Travel agents who earn a salary typically receive standard employer-paid benefits, and self-employed agents must provide for themselves. Travel agents usually enjoy reduced rates for accommodations and transportation when traveling for personal reasons. Agents will also sometimes take trips to learn about various vacation sites at either no cost or lower cost to themselves. Self-employed travel agents depend mostly on service fees and commissions they charge clients for planning their trip. Newly established agencies usually have low earnings as they take time to acquire new clients. During economic downturns, travel agents who are established may experience lower earnings.

Annual Salary for Travel Agents

On average, Travel Agents earn $30,790 per year.

10% 25% 75% 90% $19,240/yr $24,180/yr $38,370/yr $47,370/yr

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook