Becoming a travel agent seems like a fun and easy way to earn a living.
You've seen the ads: Work at home. Be an online travel agent in your spare time. Earn commissions from your home computer. Get paid to plan trips for others. And Travel! Travel! Travel!
It seems so easy and enticing. The ads couldn’t be more convincing....
Do you love travel?
Do you get pleasure from planning trips for yourself and others?
Would you like to get paid for a few hours work, with the ability to travel the world – at a discount?
During the years I worked actively in the travel industry, seldom a month went by I didn’t receive at least one call from a someone asking about the ins and outs of becoming a travel agent.
Early on, it was easy to tell these callers the wonderful things they wanted to hear about this fun and exciting industry I was a part of. [Check here for my story.]
I was always truthful with them: there is no quick and easy way to become an independent travel agent.
But as the calls continued to come, and I became increasingly knowledgeable and experienced in the field, I tried harder to paint a more realistic picture of the re-quirements necessary to become a successful travel agent in the hospitality industry.
I also made it a point to explain the day-to-day reality of working as a qualified travel agent.
And what you often find on the internet as solicitations offering travel agent courses, agent training programs, or agencies promising access to the world of travel, vs. the reality of becoming a legitimate functioning travel agent, are polar opposites.
The sad truth is, there are companies who advertise how you can become a travel agent with little or no prior knowledge.
Years ago, this was possible – if you knew the right people: a Mom & Pop agency owner who needed warm bodies to staff his office; a small-agency manager, who happened to be your best friend.
You started at the bottom and learned on the job.
Then came the the online travel agent 'mills' who hired people for a fee, prom-ising 'certification credentials' and almost immediate access to the fascinating world of 'free' and 'discounted' travel.
But these 'mills' were more about collecting the fees from their prospective students [think multi-level-marketing] than they were about instructing them on the rigors of becoming travel agents.
Most states have since outlawed these types of travel agent certification mills and shut them down for the scams they were.
Today, all you need do is command your favorite search engine to locate articles on 'how to become a travel agent' [or something similar], and you’ll find dozens of companies offer-ing to teach you how to become a travel agent online.
They claim they’ll help you get a license and 'certify' you to become
a home-based travel agent.
Problem is...too many of these com-panies are making bogus claims.
Few U.S. states require the licensing of travel agents. [But if you live in a state that does, you'd better do it!]
Others don’t require licensing, per se, but they do require state registration, specific financial compliance, agent bonding, regulatory fees, letters of credit, and certain other security measures to protect consumers.
For instance, California law requires anyone selling travel in their state [whether located there or not] to meet specific California travel-seller registration requirements.
This means, if your Aunt Polly, who lives in Sacramento, asks you to book a flight or a tour for her vacation – and you do – the powers that be in the Golden State will swoop in and shut you down and fine you [or worse], if you don't conform to their particular travel agent requirements.
And while California may be the strictest state at the time of this writing to govern becoming a travel agent, other states have their own individual rules and regulations, all of which – as an independent travel seller – you are responsible for knowing and abiding by.
So, what do you actually need in order to become a travel agent?
In a word: knowledge.
Becoming a travel agent is a professional endeavor. You don’t become one, because you pay someone a fee.
You also don’t become a travel agent online just because you have a laptop at home and sign a form with some company, who says you can sell travel.
Granted, anyone with basic computer skills can book an airline ticket, rent a car, or confirm a hotel room.
But real online travel agent jobs are handled by experienced agents who may choose to work at home, but who are affiliated with legitimate and reputable bona fide travel agencies, with proper staffing and credentials, experienced manage-ment, financial backing, and regulatory approval.
Most have been in the travel agent field for years, or they've come from another segment of the travel industry and have both an experienced passion and a resourced knowledge of the global travel business.
Although it’s not required, many contemporary travel agents are college educated, with accrued business, accounting, management, marketing, and customer-oriented interpersonal skills.
There are even colleges and universities that offer four-year degrees in travel, tourism, and hospitality, including specific travel agent courses.
Further, there are numerous trade, vocational, and technical type schools offering various forms of travel agent education, either as specialty programs or as two-year degrees.
Finally, there are dedicated and legitimate travel agent schools offering courses, that will train you in the finite skills and requirements you need to become a travel agent.
So, if you've done the proper research, if you've given it thoughtful consideration, and then decided that becoming a travel agent is what you want to do - and you’re willing to work hard to do it – check these qualified travel agent schools and learn the right way to gain the knowledge and expertise you'll need to become successful.
Being a travel agent is hard work, long hours, and [frequently] low pay.
For the real 'skinny' on becoming a travel agent and whether or not it fits your life plan, check the facts put out by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics for a realistic picture of the life [and livelihood] of becoming a travel agent at home or in a storefront agency.
Like your Mama told you…'There's no free lunch.' And there’s no 'free' travel, either.
The only way to earn free or reduced travel is to become a knowledgeable and experienced accredited travel agent. This is done through the International Air Transport Association [IATA] and any domestic Air Reporting Agencies respective to the country where you live and work.
There’s much more to becoming a travel agent than signing your name, paying a fee, or wishing it was so.
It’s a rewarding field, if you’re up for the challenge, if you're dedicated and self-disciplined, and you're willing to put in the time necessary to learn the craft and get some reputable 'in the field' experience.
Like any other professional field you might consider, becoming a travel agent – and enjoying the fruits of your labor – is difficult work.
Speaking for myself, I'm glad I took the journey!
To learn more about travel agents and how you can use them to help you plan your trip to Europe, check out these articles:
An Independent Travel Agent may cost you some money. But she may also save your trip. Learn when to seek the help of a professional travel agent.
Is using an Online Travel Agent the best strategy? Determine whether using online booking sites is better than choosing an independent travel agent.
Certified Travel Agents can often do the best job of helping you plan your overseas trip. But don't discount an independent travel counselor with years of on-the-job experience. She's worth her weight in gold!