Do you know a great place for ramen noodles outside of Japan? Can you tell someone the best place to see koalas in the Australian outback? Do you have a strong recommendation for where to go while in Florida so that you won’t be surrounded by either little kids or old people? Great! Find a computer. Go to Expedia.com or a thousand other competitors and you’re good to go!
Human travel agents do not have to be world travelers to perform their job well, but they must love travel. In addition, they must be good sales people. Most of a travel agent’s job is to sell lodging, transportation and entertainment tickets to individuals or groups. Make ‘em believe they need something and then sell it to ‘em. If they’ve done their job correctly, a client will soon be horseback riding in Ensenada and have no idea why.
Who still uses travel agents anyways? Despite the world’s overwhelming reliance on the internet these days, over half of all airline tickets, 87% of cruises, 81% of tours, 45% of car rentals and 47% of all hotels are still sold through travel agents. People hire travel agents to save themselves time dealing with every small detail associated with traveling. Traveling to foreign countries can become a headache. Many people do not know that some countries, such as Brazil, require tourist visas. Tourist mastercards not accepted.
Travel agents inform clients where they can obtain passports, and provide them with the required documentation based on their destination. Agents solve problems, deal with details and handle any issues that may come up for a client during their trip. Imagine trying to book a hotel in the middle of the night in Kazakhstan. You don’t need to if you have a travel agent. Good thing, because you’d rather not end up having to bunk with Borat if you can avoid it.
Furthermore, travel agents have access to travel deals that aren’t available to the public. Hotels, airlines and tours send travel agents updated information. To drum up more business, airlines and hotels will provide discount rates for travel agents to pass on to their customers. For this reason, you will often pay the same or less for a trip than you would have even without using an agent. Can you say, “win-win?” Or, if traveling to Vietnam, “Nguyen-Nguyen?”
People, groups and corporations typically give their travel agent a budget for a trip. It is up to the travel agent to provide different traveling, lodging and entertainment options for their clients that meet those budgetary constraints. Want to see wildlife in South Africa, but afraid of sharks? A travel agent can book a safari vacation far from the ocean. Hopefully you’re not traveling to one of those land shark-infested areas. Also, those who have ever traveled to foreign countries know that communicating with natives in a place where your language isn’t spoken can be… how you say… not nice? Travel agents ensure that you receive an itinerary that won’t leave you wandering the streets.
Of course, travel agents can not possibly be familiar with every far corner of the world. Many specialize in a certain type of travel. Some travel agents specialize in general types of vacations such as cruises, while others will specialize in specific trips, like traveling in the Bahamas, or touring Italy. Those who specialize in arranging backpacking trips across Iran are hurting a bit at the moment.
Not everyone racking up frequent flyer miles is cut out for this career. Travel agencies look for people who have good communication and computer skills. Some companies look for people who have earned undergraduate degrees in Associate of Science and Travel, Bachelor of Science and Hospitality and Tourism and Tourism Operations. Expect to take business, computer and travel classes when earning a degree. You can also earn a certification through a travel industry organization. The National Business Travel Association certifies Corporate Travel experts and the International Association of Travel Agents offers Travel and Tourism credentials. A potential employer will also find it impressive if you can show that you were able to track down Carmen Sandiego. (Hint: our gut is telling us she’s in San Diego.)
Aside from all of the degrees and certificates a person can earn, they must love people and traveling to succeed as a travel agent. Enthusiasm goes a long way when selling vacation packages. Customers must be able to trust your expertise to hand over their money and trust that their vacation will go off without a litany of problems. It also helps to live vicariously through other people. Can’t take a trip to Singapore? Book one for a client. It’s like going yourself, but without the long plane ride, wrongful arrest and imprisonment, and brutal caning.