If you want to become a travel agent, in this section you will find out more information about this career path and the licensing regulations that govern this profession.
What Does a Travel Agent Do?
Travel agents sell trip-related services and products to individuals or groups.
A travel agent may offer advice on destinations, help clients plan itineraries, and make other travel arrangements regarding transportation, lodging, and entertainment activities.
Before making recommendations to clients, travel agents may visit hotels and resorts to assess the comfort level and the overall quality of service provided by that establishment.
Some travel agents specialize, depending on the type of clients they interact with.
For example, leisure travel agents sell vacation packages while corporate travel agents make arrangements for business trips.
Travel Agent Salary
Because usually, travel agents earn a combination of salary plus commission, total earnings depend on the number of travel packages sold.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage reported by employees in this line of work was $42,350, but salaries range between less than $26,000 and more than $73,000 annually.
These numbers include commissions.
Salaries also vary depending on the state of employment and the local economy.
The top-paying state for workers in this field in 2020 was Washington, where the median annual wage reported by travel agents was $62,040.
Median salaries above the $50,000 threshold were also reported in Arizona, the District of Columbia, California, and Massachusetts.
Travel agents in New Mexico, on the other hand, were remunerated only $32,510 per year, on average.
Work Opportunities for Travel Agents
You can become a travel agent after finishing high school if you apply for an opening at a travel agency.
Taking some travel and hospitality-related courses at a community college will help you learn more about this business.
Having a degree will also improve your chances of getting a good job.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2020 approximately 14 percent of all travel agents in the United States were self-employed.
Companies in the travel arrangement and reservation services field hired about 72 percent of all travel agents.
This profession will grow 5 percent from 2020 to 2030, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
This will result in approximately 7,500 openings each year over the decade.
Most of this growth will occur when the nation recovers from the COVID-19 recession.
Travel agents who know how to communicate with their clients and are able to recommend personalized travel experiences will have the best prospects.
The ability to use online resources when researching and booking trips is another very valued skill in this line of work.
Education and Licensing Requirements
If you want to become a travel agent in the United States, there is no specific testing, licensing, or training requirements that are applicable at a national level.
However, some states that have their own licensing requirements.
These vary, depending on the state where you wish to sell travel, the type of business you wish to conduct, and other factors.
In the next sections, we will take a closer look at the path towards a career as a travel agent.
Most employers require a high school diploma for all travel agent positions but some prefer candidates who also have sales experience or a relevant certification or education.
Technical training programs for travel agents are available at many community colleges and vocational schools and usually last less than two years.
If you want a Bachelor’s degree there are also four-year programs in travel and tourism available at many colleges.
Post-secondary programs usually cover topics such as reservation systems, regulations, and marketing classes.
Those who have no relevant experience or training can prove their skills by taking the Travel Agency Proficiency test administered by The Travel Institute.
The Travel Institute is a non-profit organization that offers career training courses, certification, travel industry specialization training programs, and access to an extensive resource library.
You can become a member by paying a monthly or annual fee.
If you want to learn the basics of this business, the Institute offers a Travel Introductory Program.
This program teaches students about five core travel products, workplace orientation, and marketing strategies.
Once you feel ready you can apply for certification.
There are three certification levels available:
- Certified Travel Associate
- Certified Travel Counselor
- Certified Travel Industry Executive
Each one of these products costs $550.
Credentialing and educational programs are also offered by the American Society of Travel Advisors and the Cruise Lines International Association.
Most employers train their newly-hired travel agents on the job.
This training period focuses mostly on the airline and hotel booking applications that are used within the company.
Licensing Requirements by State
As mentioned above there are no national licensing requirements that govern this line of work.
However, California, Hawaii, Florida, Iowa, and Washington have extraterritorial laws that apply to travel agents.
This means that these regulations apply to all those who sell travel packages in these states, regardless of their state of residence.
It is important to know the regulations that apply in each state because if you fail to comply, this may lead to penalties.
Licensing Requirements in California
If you want to sell or distribute travel products or services in the state of California, you have to become a registered Seller of Travel.
In California, a travel agent is defined as a person or business who sells, arranges, or advises that they can sell:
- flight or cruises or
- land or water transportation that exceeds $300 in value.
The two registration programs that apply to travel agents in the state of California are:
- Travel Consumer Restitution Corporation
- California Seller of Travel Program
The Travel Consumer Restitution Corporation applies to those who handle customer funds.
The California Seller of Travel Program is endorsed by the California Attorney General and is enforced to all travel agencies who sell travel in California.
All travel agencies that conduct business in California are required to display their California Seller of Travel number on any advertising materials that promote travel products and services.
There are a few steps you need to complete before becoming a licensed travel agent in the state of California:
Complete a California Seller of Travel Registration Application – a form that can be found online.
Obtain one for the following:
- A trust account
- A California Seller of Travel Bond
- A Consumer Protection Deposit Plan through the United States Tour Operators Association
Travel customers usually pay upfront for certain travel packages.
A safety net is needed to protect customers if their money is mishandled.
According to California law, you are not allowed to spend your clients’ money on expenses such as salaries unless you have a surety bond in place.
Pay the registration fee.
In some situations, travel agents have to participate in the Travel Consumer Restitution Fund.
Submit your application packet to the Office of the Attorney General.
The application packet may also be sent via email or fax.
The cost to register as a California travel agent is $100 per location.
Afterward completing all these steps, you will receive your California Seller of Travel Certificate in the mail in 1-3 weeks.
If you want to sell travel products and services in the state of Hawaii, you must get a registration from the Hawaii Travel Agent Licensing Program.
All travel agencies in Hawaii have to re-register at the end of each odd-numbered year.
The bi-annual registration fee is $140.
Travel agents who reside in another state also have to apply for a Certificate of Authority, which means they have to pay a registration cost of $25 per year.
Licensing Requirements in Florida
Florida requires a bond of $50,000 if you want to sell vacation certifications and a $25,000 bond if you don’t plan on selling certificates.
Travel agents don’t need to have this sum upfront, but they have to pay a yearly premium bond.
Depending on the agent’s qualifications, this translates into between 1-10% of the total value of the bond.
Anyone who wants to sell travel products and services in Florida needs to register with the Department of Agriculture of Consumer Affairs.
Licensing Requirement in Iowa
The Department of Economic Development is the registering agency for travel agents in Iowa.
Those seeking to become licensed need to purchase a $10,000 bond, which means they have to pay between 1-3% of the bond value.
Requirements for Washington Travel Agents
Washington is another state that requires all travel agents to hold a license.
This means that you will have to spend a few hundred dollars in application and state fees, depending on your business structure.
Earning a license to sell travel is not always an easy task.
However, it is far easier than paying a fine or receiving a cease and desist letter.
Having a license will also increase the comfort of your clients and will prove that you are a trustworthy individual/agency.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do I Need A License to Sell Travel Products in the United States?
There are no national license requirements for travel agents.
However, you will need a license to sell travel services or products in California, Florida, Iowa, Hawaii, or Washington.
Licensing requirements vary by state, but you will need to undergo a registration process to sell travel in the states listed above, regardless of your state of residence.
How Much Does This Registration Process Cost?
Total registration costs vary depending on the state where you want to sell travel.
California, for example, charges a registration fee of $100 per travel destination, which means that you will have to pay $500 if you want to sell travel packages to five Californian destinations.
A surety bond is also required to protect your clients in case their money is mishandled.
Are There Any Education Requirements for Travel Agents in the United States?
There are no specific education requirements for travel agents and usually, you can start a career in this field with only a high school diploma.
However, there are agencies that prefer applicants who have proven sales and/or marketing experience.
One way to compensate for your lack of experience is by attending a hospitality or tourism program at a community college or technical school.
What Type of Courses Can Prepare Me For a Career As a Travel Agent?
Travel agent training usually covers topics such as reservation systems, marketing, and regulations.
Many employers train their newly-hired travel agents on the job.
This training period focuses mostly on the booking and reservation software used in that specific agency.
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