Certified travel agents are a relatively new breed of travel professionals, who work throughout the industry - most notably in the area of specialized travel.
They’ve taken time to expand their travel skills, including learning and exper-ience, by completing a series of approved travel-related courses to increase their consultant credentials.
More correctly called a Certified Travel Counselor, a travel agent with the CTC designation, is almost always committed to working in the travel industry for the long haul.
They’ve dedicated their time and talent to 'earn their wings' and to elevate their travel expertise to a bona fide professional level.
Earning the CTC designation [or a CTA, Certified Travel Associate] is a rig-orous, time consuming exercise that includes a prescribed schedule of courses.
Manner and personality aside, using a certified travel agent to plan and book your overseas trip gives you a greater guarantee that the independent travel agent you use is at the top of her game.
Some international travel agents follow a similar schedule of courses, obtaining what’s known as a DS designation – Destination Specialist.
Coupled with job experience, personal travel, and pertinent information gleaned from her customers, an independent travel agent with a 'DS' after her name, is more knowledgeable and proficient in arranging travel for the areas that were the focus of her study.
Before planning a trip to Europe, or wherever you choose to travel, it’s important to do some research and find a 'real life' local travel agent to help you plan your trip.
This is especially important if you’re new to international travel, if you don’t do well with details, or if you don’t have the time and patience to do your own overseas travel planning.
But choosing qualified travel coun-selors or certified travel agents online is not much different from closing your eyes and picking one from the Yellow Pages.
You can’t tell from an 'ad' whether the travel agent - or the brick and mortar agency she works for - has the knowledge and expertise you need.
You can pinpoint credentials and designations, proudly portrayed in their marketing promotions.
But travel agents and the agencies they work for are uniquely different. Without a personal recommendation from someone you know and trust, you can't be sure how capable or effective an agent will be.
Choosing an independent travel agent is akin to choosing any profesional you plan to do business with. It requires the same amount of due diligence.
You want to be sure the agent you choose is someone whose expertise and proficiency you can trust.
Both your time and money are at stake.
And while traveling may not be as important as, say, your health or finances, you still potentially have a lot to lose.
If you’re planning the trip of your lifetime, you want to know you’re getting the best advice, the maximum know-how, and the highest level of experience you can find to help with your travel preparation.
So, where do you find qualified, capable, certified travel agents?
Start by asking friends and neighbors, coworkers, and family members who’ve used 'leisure' travel agents [as opposed to 'business' or 'corporate' agents] for recommendations.
Have they worked with a particular travel coun-selor for both major trips with lots of details, as well as shorter, simpler trips?
Was the agent attentive to requests, familiar with their destination, and sensitive to personal and financial wishes and constraints?
Was the agent a certified travel consultant, or did she offer credentials of her ongoing study and education?
Did their travel plan accomplish the goals and dreams of their overseas trip? Were they satisfied with the outcome - the cost, the itinerary, the destination, the arrangements - of their trip?
The best travel agents may not always be certified travel agents.
Many independent travel counselors have worked in the industry for years, learning through day to day tasks and personally traveling the world.
Others have chosen to increase their travel agent skills not through educational classes, but by using their growth in their profession as an ongoing means of travel and tourism education.
Though these leisure travel agents may not be certified travel agents, they’re worth rooting out as your agent of choice. Their years of personal knowledge and on-the-job experience are like gold to your trip.
To find the best travel agents, first find an agency that displays the ASTA desig-nation [American Society of Travel Agents]. Membership qualifies the agency as meeting the highest professional standards in the industry.
Also look for agency membership in ARTA [Association of Retail Travel Agents]. Members are required to adhere to ethical standards and meet certain financial requirements, in order to sustain membership.
Additionally, independent travel agencies are often members of multi-agency consortiums. These are travel industry associations of like-minded travel agencies and/or travel suppliers, who band together for marketing purposes and buying power.
While most consortia are joined by voluntary membership, the ethics and reputation of an independent travel agency is reviewed before membership is approved.
Seek out independent travel agencies, who proudly display their memberships and agent designations. You’ll have a greater chance of finding the highest caliber of professionals and certified travel agents.
Once you’ve found the professional or certified travel agent you want to do business with, give her the information she needs to accomplish your travel dreams.
Before she can begin to develop your overseas travel plan, she’ll need to know something about you and your reason for traveling. Having answers to the following will get you started:
In short, be clear about the type of international travel experience you want to have. Ask the agent questions [which you’ll get from the advance travel research you do], and thoroughly and completely answer her questions to you.
Most of all, establish a rapport and level of trust that will result in a mutually satisfactory business relationship.
Finally, expect to pay for services rendered.
It takes time, money, and knowledge to pull together the many options and components it takes to create a successful plan for traveling to Europe.
It’s only logical that certified travel agents and professional independent agents – as with doctors, lawyers, and accountants – should expect to be paid for qualified services.
To learn more about using travel agents 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.
Becoming a Travel Agent is easy and cheap - so say the ads on the web. But is joining the ranks of the travel agent industry as simple as signing your name?