"Becoming a travel agent may be a bad idea"."travel agents are being replaced by websites" and "I can book my own travel now" are all things we have heard over the last few years. However, I am here to share with you why becoming a travel agent and specifically an at home travel agent is a fantastic job, and with incredible world opening opportunities. Plus I will reveal how you how you can become a travel agent in Canada or the US.
The world of employment is changing. In the United States and Canada there are now many thousands of ways to earn a living - and many of those ways now involve working remotely and carving a path from the comfort of your own home. With the advent of today’s digital age, coupled with a far greater degree of inter-connectivity with other people, we’re able to do things from our home that wouldn’t have even been imagined a few decades ago.
Being a travel agent in North America is one of those jobs. This guide will take you through the steps required as an introduction to becoming a travel agent - we will look at what the job entails, how to get trained, where to go to get certified and how to build your reputation. Alongside this, we will give unbiased views on the kind of work you can expect, as well as some information about becoming a travel agent within the ‘bigger picture,’ and what kind of lifestyle you can expect to enjoy.
But first, we will start with some basic information:
What is a certified home based travel agent?
With the correct training and education, anyone can become a certified home based travel agent. The job entails selling vacations remotely - fitting customers’ needs with packages and vacations you think would suit their requirements in terms of location, budget and quality. With hard work and the right training it can be a very rewarding and enjoyable job - who doesn’t enjoy fulfilling people’s needs and making them smile!
Traditionally, there are two different types of travel agents - home based, and agency based. An agency based travel agent works out of an office and usually offers a full-service package. It is what many people expect from the term ‘travel agent,’ however, that perception is slowly changing.
Is it for me?
With a focus on impeccable customer service and high standards required at all times, we realize becoming a home certified travel agent isn’t for everyone. However, in this guide we will explain a little bit about how you can make it work - and with the right advice, anyone can! There are definitely a few perks to keep in mind about this type of work - here are a few.
- Working from home keeps overall costs down. Get rid of the commute and costly lifestyle.
- Looking for a personalized touch? Get to know your customers’ and build relationships.
- Get to spend more time with your family and friends
- Opportunities to explore the world on a discount!
You also have the opportunity to make some good money when working as a home based agent!
Due to the nature of the travel industry and how much technology affects its development, the pace of this work is fast. We will expand on this more later in this guide, however as a home based travel agent you need to be aware of changing trends and developments within the industry. This job does require hard work and determination - but if you’re ready, here goes…
The first steps to becoming a travel agent are to ensure you seek the right training. Of course, you need to seek the best training possible, but it’s also about getting the right fit for you as a person. Different schools teach in different ways, and everyone learns in different ways, so it’s worth doing a bit of research and speaking to people before you commit. In this section of the guide, we will take you through the training options available to you, and look at schools who teach online, and those that require attendance in person.
Travel agent certificate programs in the USA - available online and in person
Travel agent certificate programs in Canada - attendance in person
There are many points to consider when you are looking to train online or in person. The convenience and relative affordability of an online training program may look tempting, but be sure to do your research and speak to people in person or over the phone if you can. Ensure your program is endorsed - doing this at this early stage of the process could save you a lot of trouble later in your travel agent career.
How do I know I’ve made the right training choice?
It’s a popular question - but a hard one to answer. There are however, some essential bits of research and queries you need to resolve before you take the plunge. Here are a few tips:
- Is the school and the course you’re looking at established. If so, how long has it been running?
- Does your Provincial Government endorse and support the school?
- What certifications and training certificates do the instructors hold?
- How long is the program and what industry textbooks are used?
We will cover the subjects of training for industry standard computer systems a little later, but this is also something to bear in mind when making your initial enquiry.
Making the most of your training
Different people approach travel agent training in different ways, but in this section of our guide we will offer some pointers on how to make the most of your training, and how to be sure you are getting the very best mentoring possible.
Ensure that there are core skills being taught within your course. Like; how to promote yourself, how to communicate, how to identify travel destinations and how to make the most of your product knowledge are all key. Good product knowledge, in many cases, equals better sales and happier customers. Always bear this in mind from the ground up!
Allocate most of your time learning about your product and how to actually make the sale and administer the bookings. It’s important for your future customers that this transaction feel seamless and stress-free.
You will also need to think about specialisation and choose classes that appeal to you and where you would like to market yourself. Some of the classes you can chose include
- Selling skills
- Hotel, rail and ground orientation
- Tours and cruises
- General administration
The training is done, how do I get certified?
After school is complete, the next step is to ensure you get certified. This process will differ depending on whether you are in the United States or Canada, but in this guide we will detail the options for both countries and the institutions you should be looking out for.
The purpose of a certification is essentially to put what you’ve learned at school into practice. The certification is based on an individual’s ability to perform a minimum amount of tasks required to meet the travel industry’s standard for employment.
There are a number of different locations and website you can visit for more information:
Travel Industry Council of Ontario (TICO)
TICO is Ontario’s travel regulator, and their website is a wealth of information about industry news, enforcement, compliance and legislation in the industry. If you are thinking about becoming an online travel agent, visiting websites like these is a great way to make sure you keep one step ahead of the industry.
The Travel Institute
This organisation offers two courses - the CTA and the CTC. The Certified Travel Associate (CTA) certificate focuses on the basics and the ‘nuts and bolts’ of the travel industry, looking at 12 core courses. Once you have passed this and have 5 solid years of industry experience, you are eligible for the Certified Travel Counsellor (CTA) course - recognised as one of the ‘gold standards’ in the travel industry.
Certified Travel Industry Executive (CTIE)
Featuring interactive courses, leadership videos and industry focused white papers, the CTIE is one of the most recognised leadership certifications out there. It offers the opportunity for candidates to demonstrate what they know through the completion of an experience checklist.
If you are in the USA
It is not required to obtain a Travel Counsellor Certificate in the USA, however, doing so will increase your chances of employment, as well as finding clients and holding down repeat work.
Start a Business
Training and certificate are just stages you have to go through, and in many cases the hard work hasn’t really begun yet.
However, you can be proud! You are now a fully qualified Travel Counsellor, able to confidently and knowledgeably send people on their dream vacations. The next step is to get yourself noticed in the industry - set up a business, learn how to market yourself and attract clients who will trust you with sending them on their dream vacations.
Travel Industry Publications
When you are looking to set up your own travel business, you should always stay up to date on all the latest developments in your industry. And while there are a number of travel publications worth reading, here is a great place to start:
- Travel Trade
- Travel Agent Central
One should always stay current within their industry, especially when you're first starting out as a travel agent. You need to be as knowledgeable as possible and develop confidence and credibility when you start. If you’re passionate and excited about travel, coupled with confidence and enthusiasm, you should be able to stand out from the crowd and start building your travel agent business.
How to Start a Business
Starting your own travel agency business can be a very attractive business model. And with the internet, and its full potential for networking, you have access to a large audience of people who could potentially become your future customers. Let's have a look at a few ideas and things you need to consider.
- Be prepared to work hard, and don't be too focused on getting travel discounts in the beginning. Focus on growing your brand and client base first.
- Who are you suited to? What kind of vacations do you like to go on? Knowing this will put you in a better position to help guide your clients into making better travel decision.
- Be prepared to be involved in a highly competitive, price driven industry . Competition is fierce and the industry is full of large tour operators with the financial means to keep prices low.
- Find a niche market with clients that are willing to pay more for excellent knowledge and service, and then try offer them something your competition is not.
Join a Network
Professional networks exist in a number of different industries - where you can meet people who you are able to work with, and people who share the same aspirations and interests as you. The travel industry is no different - there are many opportunities to join these networks and once you have training, are certified and established, this is a great next step. It enables you to not only network with like minded individuals whom you can learn trade secrets from, but also potentially develop your brand, as well as possibly having access to a large number of existing clients who already trust and recognize these networks. Here are a few organizations you may want to consider.
YTP Travel Network
YTP Travel is a marketing organisation that offers travel agents the abilities to sell packages through owner-affiliate sites. They are paid a sales commission - but representatives can sell travel online to clients through their network in exchange for a set up free and monthly maintenance charges
Traverse Events organise free networking and relationship building events around the world. Very useful once you have started a business, know a few names in the industry and want to climb the ladder.
GT Trends are an online company who provide travel as a host agency for representatives such as your who become certified to work as an agent from home. They are one of the largest networks, and using a combination of digital communication and network marketing, they offer customers the ability to book travel from more than 150 destinations around the world.
Travel Professionals International (Canada)
This is Canada’s leading professional network of independent travel agents. TPI claims they always have someone available to organise travel for their clients. It’s easy to sign up and join TPI - if you are new to the industry you can become a successful agent using their well-known and popular Associate Program.
Market Your Services
This is an element of your travel offering that is worth spending some time on. Once you have your training and certification completed, and you are established within a network, you need to make sure you are highly visible and marketing yourself in an effective way that will ensure you are getting in front of the right audience. There are number of things you can do to help with your marketing, and below we’ll give you an introduction to making the most of your time and efforts.
Starting With Families and Friends
Lots of people would suggest using existing networks to begin your marketing focus - but that even extends to those people closer than you think. Using immediate networks, such as family and friends, might be a great place to focus when you are starting out and your network is small. You just may be surprised at how many people closest to you would be interested in doing business with you - and the endorsements can really help initially.
Using Other Existing Networks
Beyond family and friends, there are other existing networks within a professional capacity that can always help you further market your services. You can attend trade shows, go to business meetups and keep in contact with old work colleagues ...it’s a great opportunity to show case your new business and possibly opening the door up to selling someone a vacation too!
Set Up your ‘Brand’
The idea of ‘branding’, with a good online presence, which we will get into a little later, is an extremely important in today’s crowded travel industry. It’s a good way of differentiating yourself and ensuring you have a unique offering which other people may not. There are lots of different ways of establishing the idea of a ‘brand,’ but much of it comes down to an element of personality and showing others what you can bring to the table for your customers, and how you will make their experience exceptionally better. It’s also important at this stage that you have a consistent brand. If you have a logo, typograhpy or design, make sure this is consistent throughout your banners, trade show displays, business cards or flyers. It’ll make you appear not only professional but memorable.
Excellent Content and Website
You cannot get by these days without having excellent content on your website. In fact, just having a website isn’t necessarily going to be enough - good content is an excellent way of getting in front of the right people and showing your expertise in the industry. Use your skills, and the traits people look for in a travel agent. Know about some excellent spot off the beaten path? Are you great with a camera and, or have a blog you can share your photos on? People love great images and content - something that makes them smile, laugh and learn - don’t just use a website to solely advertise your services...engage with your audience. In many cases people these days expect a lot more from a personal travel site.
Digital Marketing and SEO
Of course all this can cost money, but it is something to consider as an investment. With marketing costs in this type of industry consistently increasing, you need to at least consider SEO and the impact it could have on your business. Going hand in hand with good content and a good general web presence, and with the right digital marketing strategy - this could bring the right people to your site, get you noticed by people who may not have known you existed, and strengthen your reputation with people who already know you.
Sell to places you love - travel the world!
- Marketing and looking good, is only part of the plan. You need to of course actually be knowledgeable about the places you’re promoting. Actually traveling to these destinations is one of the best perks of the job, and when it actually helps you sell, you need to make sure you say yes to as many trips as you are offered!
- There’s no substitute for actually knowing and understanding a location from the ground up. Many people you sell to might just expect standard services, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t provide them with the extra details they might need ‘just in case.’ You’re unlikely to know the hidden secrets of a place or the little hidden gems unless you travel, have a curious mind, talk and interact with local people. Sharing your experiences is a great way to 'sell', without 'selling'.
- Taking advantage of these opportunities to go on press trips, taking advantage of any available discounts, and making sure you’re always registered to travel industry magazines and journals, will all insure you know all the hot spot destination, that many others are not yet familiar with.
- Essentially, indulge in your passion for travel. Explore, be curious, ask questions and let yourself see the world in a different light...your customers will notice this, be impressed and more importantly be inclined to spend money with you over and over again.
Continue to Learn
- While we’re on the subject of travel always being a case of learning and seeing new places, you should never forget to keep learning within your own industry when it comes to buying and selling vacations.
Become a Specialist
- Once you’ve got set up, had some experience and feel comfortable dealing with a certain type of vacation, why not think about specializing in it? As a customer, the idea of handing your money to someone who is a specialist and can provide a 100% personalized service, is a much more appealing prospect than paying for a ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ style agent. Becoming a specialist has many advantages - you are open to a whole new area of potential customers and you have a new level of knowledge and understanding that may put you ahead of the competition.
- The idea of a lifestyle specialist is a particularly new one, and much of it is related to the idea of selling not just a travel package but the idea that a particular lifestyle goes with it. Great online content, blogs and fashion sites have helped the rise of this style of traveling - customers who know what they want from their trip away and base it around the kind of life they can live while they are there. Whether its skiing, relaxing on a yachtm or taking a city break for shopping - these travelers tend to have the money and know how they want to spend it.
Travel Planning Expert
- Is logistics your thing? Do you thrive on your ability to plan and put those plans into action? Then a specialty in Travel Planning might be for you. These people are highly regarded and highly skilled - sometimes planning and booking trips for large groups with complicated requests. Mapping out an entire trip can be the job of the travel planning expert - and these travel plans are almost always entirely the made to measure type. This is a great specialty and one that comes with not only a good amount of responsibility, but also a great amount of reward.
Improvement of sales skills
- The way people close a sale varies from person to person, and when it comes to training, it’s wise to stay ahead of the game when it comes to your selling skills. You can learn new techniques, fine tune the ones you already have or even take up a new strategy altogether. Staying ahead of the game here is a big element to staying competitive in the industry. Master selling without selling.
Improve Marketing Skills
- As we discussed earlier, the way travel agents and even travel destinations are marketed these days is forever changing, and without embracing virtual sales via the internet, you’re unlikely to be able to stay competitive. Marketing takes a number of different forms, and by learning how to create excellent content, communication, interacting and building relationships via social media, and by building your brand online, you can stay ahead of many others in your field.
- The industry also makes it easy to be able to be mentored when it comes to marketing - attend events, talk to people and make yourself available to learn new tips, tricks and strategies from the established experts in your field
Join a Professional Network
- Becoming established and experienced in the industry means that within due time, you also will be entitled to join a professional network.
What professional networks you’ll join depend on whether you are located in the USA or Canada. Here is a little bit of information about both locations:
American Society of Travel Agents - ASTA (USA)
ASTA's (American Society of Travel Agents) mission is to facilitate the business of selling travel through effective representation, shared knowledge and the enhancement of professionalism.
ASTA is the world’s largest association of travel professionals - seeking an industry that is profitable, growing and rewarding. Founded in 1931, the organisation stays true today to its mission statement - protecting and promoting the mutual interests of its travel agent members.
Association of Canadian Travel Agents - ACTA (Canada)
ACTA was establishing in 1977 and is a national trade association representing the retail sector of Canada’s substantial travel and tourism industry.
Members include travel agents, wholesalers, destination marketing companies, cruise lines, airlines and hotels. Through a joint effort it aims to protect the joint professional interests of all parties.
Useful to travel agents is that these networks can also seek out, facilitate and promote professional training courses and education opportunities. The aim here is to add a greater value to Canada’s visitors and the country’s travel consumers.
In this article we’ve offered some information about what it takes to be a Travel Agent in both the USA or Canada.
We’ve introduced the idea of training, certification, setting up a business, marketing and joining a professional network. There is however a huge amount of information available online - and any one of the colleges mentioned above will surely have more in depth details. Just find their contact information and reach out to them if needed.
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