Planning a trip is a time-consuming and complicated process. Travel agents simplify this process for their customers in addition to providing consultation services and entire travel packages. They may book flights, cruises, rental cars and hotels, as well as resort stays and events. Agents cater to a wide demographic, serving both individuals and corporations. They may also concentrate in a special segment of the field; many agents specialize in leisure travel, business trips, or location-specific journeys to Europe, Africa, or Asia.
The primary responsibility of a travel agent is to make the process of travel planning easier for their clients and ensure they experience the best trip possible. Travel agents work directly with the public and converse with clients in order to determine the best possible travel destinations, transportation arrangements, and accommodations for the client's particular needs. They may make suggestions to the client based on their experience, or offer complete travel packages from various resorts or cruise lines. They are often restricted to a budget, and must be highly organized in order to offer their clients travel arrangements that suit both their financial limitations and leisure or business travel expectations.
Agents work with computers or call airlines, cruise lines, resorts, and rental companies in order to secure travel arrangements for their customers. They research information on their client's travel plans and relay important information including weather conditions, travel advisories and required documents for their destination. Safety is also a factor in international travel, so travel agents keep abreast of the latest news, ensuring that each planned destination is safe for their customers.
Travel agents work year-round, but are especially busy during peak vacation times in the summer and during holidays. During those times, agents are busy on the telephone planning trips and making last-minute itinerary changes for current customers. They also sell vacation packages from cruise lines, resorts and other destinations. During the off season, travel agents are busy researching destinations and learning about the latest offerings of prime travel resorts and locations. They will also uncover new destinations and find the best trips for a particular travel purpose, whether it be business-related or for personal leisure.
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Travel agents typically have a high school diploma or equivalent, along with additional training received through vocational or technical schools. Classes are offered in full-time and part-time programs, as well as at night in order to accommodate the schedules of working students. Those who pursue four-year degrees in travel hospitality benefit from an increased chance of a successful career in the travel industry.
In addition to formal education, travel agents must be competent in computer and internet technologies, as most reservations and bookings are done online. Customer relationship and interpersonal skills are essential for working face-to-face and on the phone with clients on a daily basis. Other skills required include a knowledge of geography in addition to sales and marketing skills, since many travel agents are independent contractors and must do their own footwork to bring in new clients.
Travel agents should excel at time management and active listening skills. It is important that they meet both clients' deadlines and deliver trip packages that cater to the specific needs of their customers. They should express a genuine desire to help their clients and communicate well through writing and conversation. Knowledge of clerical procedures and word processing systems is also essential.
Travel agents who work as independent contractors must secure approval from organizations such as the Airlines Travel Agency Network before opening their doors to customers. Typically, independent agency owners will need to work for a number of years in an established agency before qualifying to receive this approval. Though not required, many agents belong to professional organizations such as the American Society of Travel Agents. As members, travel agents receive advocacy benefits, learning tools, and increased exposure.
Travel agents work indoors in an office or cubicle, year-round. They spend long hours on the telephone or in front of computer terminals, making travel arrangements and researching travel destinations for their clients. Agents employed by large travel agencies typically adhere to a regular 40-hour work week, though some opportunity for overtime may occur during peak travel seasons. Independent contractors have a more sporadic schedule, working less during the off season and more nights and weekends during holidays and over the summer to meet the demands of vacationing clientele.
In order to perform the required research for their jobs, travel agents keep up with travel magazines, books, journals, and online travel publications. In some instances, agents will travel domestically or abroad to obtain first-hand experience of select destinations, and then relay that information to their clients.