How to Become an Online Travel Agent: Career Roadmap
Research the requirements to become an online travel agent. Learn about the job description and duties, and read the step-by-step process to start a career in the travel industry.
Do I Want to Be an Online Travel Agent?
When planning a trip, many individuals and organizations turn to travel agents to provide assistance and expertise. Online travel agents use the Internet to communicate with their customers, provide them with transportation and lodging information, and assist them with bookings. They might also plan tour packages and deal with last-minute travel changes and issues.
Generally, travel agents work full-time. The work in office settings and those that work exclusively online may be able to telecommute. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, www.bls.gov), about 12% of travel agents are self-employed; such agents need to generate their own business and build a client base in order to be financially successful.
Aspiring online travel agents may enroll in formal education programs, though not all employers require formal training in the field. The main requirements outlined by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) are contained in the following table:
|Degree Level||No formal education beyond a high school diploma may be required; however, many employers may prefer to hire candidates who have completed postsecondary programs|
|Degree Field||Travel, tourism or a related field|
|Licensure||Some states may require licensure|
|Certification||Voluntary certification is available|
|Experience||No experience is required to enter this field|
|Key Skills||Online travel agents should be adventurous and detail-oriented; strong communication, sales and organizational skills are also helpful|
|Computer Skills||Familiarity with online reservation systems is essential|
|Additional Requirements||Long hours may be required during busy travel seasons; online travel agents must also be available to assist customers with unanticipated changes in travel plans|
Step 1: Complete a Formal Education Program
Though formal education is not always required, employers and customers are both likely to seek out knowledgeable travel agents with formal training in the field. Individuals who complete education programs might have better insight into the field and an advantage entering the workplace with relevant skills and knowledge. Programs are available at several levels, including certificate, associate's degree and bachelor's degree level. Certificate programs generally take between 6 months and 1 year to complete and cover subjects such as travel law, customer service, geography, adventure travel, cruises and tours.
Associate's and bachelor's degree programs typically take 2 and 4 years to complete, respectively. Students in these programs complete general education requirements, such as English composition and mathematics, as well as courses focused on travel and tourism. Coursework in these programs may include interpersonal communications, entrepreneurship, business mathematics, destination development, tourism marketing and career management.
- Pursue hands-on learning opportunities. Some colleges and universities might offer internships or other supervised work experience options to students. These opportunities are important since they allow students to gain real-world experience in the field and establish possible networking connections. Work experience while in an education program also provides a good addition for a prospective online travel agent's resume.
- Attain computer knowledge. Travel agents working online should familiarize themselves with as much computer knowledge as possible to effectively work on the Internet. Many airlines, hotels and other tourism businesses use electronic reservation systems, so travel agents must learn how to properly navigate these on the behalf of their customers. Internet research skills are essential, particularly for researching travel locales and figuring out the best airline dates and hotel rates for consumers. Students should be sure to focus on taking any available computer courses to sharpen their skills.
- Keep current on travel information. Environmental, political and cultural changes affect travel information. By researching current travel information online, agents can stay knowledgeable about attractions, weather and customs for practically any area in the world.
Step 2: Obtain Licensure
Licensure is needed to work as a travel agent in some states. Some states may refer to this licensure as 'state registration'. Requirements for licensure vary greatly from state to state, so travel agents should research the exact requirements, if any, for their state.
- Become certified. Certification is not necessary for online travel agents but may help increase job opportunities and career advancement by showing dedication to the field. Several professional organizations offer certification for travel agents. One example is the Travel Institute, which offers 3 different credentials to choose from: Certified Travel Associate (CTA), Certified Travel Counselor (CTC) or Certified Travel Industry Executive (CTIE). Successful completion of a certification workshop is required to secure these designations. Another option for certification is the Travel and Tourism Professional (TTP) credential, available from the International Airline Transport Association's Training and Development Institute. Three years of experience in the field are required for certification; if the applicant holds a bachelor's degree, the experience requirement is only 2 years.
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