Student Advice - Career Search - Travel Agent - Tourism
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Travel Agent

Travel Agent

Tell me about it
Travel agents or travel consultants are best known for selling holiday packages on behalf of tour operators, together with air, ferry, train and coach tickets, hotel reservations, car hire services, tours and expeditions, theatre seats and insurance. Much of their time is spent advising clients in person, finding out what type of holiday the client wants, showing them brochures, answering any questions and maybe suggesting particular resorts or hotels. When the client has chosen, the travel agent checks to confirm availability and books the holiday using a computer system linked to the tour operator. They collect a deposit from the client and complete a booking form.

Travel agents also deal with independent travellers, and may help plan their journey using online timetables before booking air, rail or ferry tickets and accommodation. Some agents specialise in business travel, dealing with complicated itineraries.
They also offer advice on passport, visa and vaccination requirements and services such as holiday insurance, car hire, holiday excursions, foreign currency and travellers' cheques.

Entry level
Many young people enter through an apprenticeship provided by a national or local training provider. They work towards N/SVQs at Levels 2 and 3 in travel and tourism, together with other appropriate travel-related qualifications. Some gain qualifications in customer service.

It can be helpful to have qualifications in travel and tourism, gained through a college course and/or previous employment, but this is not essential. Useful qualifications include:

  • AS or A levels in travel and tourism
  • The Diploma in Travel and Tourism, which has been available in schools and colleges since September 2010
  • City and Guilds travel and tourism diploma
  • BTEC Certificates and Diplomas in travel and tourism.

Some colleges also offer the Guild of Travel Management Companies (GTMC) Introductory Certificate in Business Travel for those who want to specialise in this area.
Alternatively, you might consider a degree, foundation degree or higher national diploma (HND) in travel and tourism or a related subject.

Making the grade
Prospects for promotion vary - small firms often have little or no promotion possibilities. Large agencies may offer promotion to senior posts, but it may be necessary to move from branch to branch or from employer to employer to progress.
Some travel agency staff transfer to work in other areas such as holiday representatives. Once they have sufficient experience, they may start and run their own business, perhaps working from home running an online agency.

You may wish to join the Accredited Travel Professional Scheme (ATP), which recognises professionalism in the travel industry through personal achievement, excellence in customer service, the development of expertise and knowledge for the benefit of the individual and the business.

You can apply via the ATP website and can join the scheme at one of three levels:
Bronze membership: after one year working in the travel industry and an NVQ at level 2 / Modern Apprenticeship; or after over two years experience
Silver membership: after at least four years working in the travel industry and an NVQ at Level 3 (or equivalent)
Gold membership: after at least seven years working in the travel industry and an NVQ at Level 3 or 4 (or equivalent)

You can progress from bronze to silver and on to gold as you gain more experience.

Personal qualities
You would need a friendly, outgoing personality, a good eye for detail, good IT skills, and a reasonable standard of geographical knowledge.

You should enjoy selling and introducing different possibilities to customers, and you should be able to communicate well in both written and verbal form. You should also have a smart appearance.

Looking ahead
Some travel agencies are independently owned, while others are part of chains that market their own tours and package holidays as well as those of other tour operators.  Most of the 6,700 travel agencies in the UK have high street, shop-front premises, where you would inform and negotiate with clients and check availability on computer systems before completing a sale.

Vacancies arise regularly but there is always competition. Part-time employment is growing, and is increasingly used to cover busy periods.

A growing number of travellers are using the Internet to make their own travel arrangements but many people continue to use travel agencies for their specialist knowledge and advice.

Sustainable tourism is currently a career specialism worth exploring, as travel specialists try to help us plot a pathway around the planet without leaving too large a carbon footprint.

Alternative suggestions
Other possibilities might include air cabin crew, holiday representative, hotel manager, hotel receptionist, leisure services manager, sales executive or tour operator.

Take-home pay
Salaries vary greatly between agencies, with larger chains generally paying higher rates. You might start on around £14,500 to £20,000. Typical salaries at senior level range from £22,000 to £45,000.

Most travel agency sales consultants receive discounts on their own holidays.

Effects
Travel agents usually work 35 to 37.5 hours, five days a week, normally between Monday and Saturday. Part-time work is possible.

You may travel abroad occasionally to gather information on a holiday resort, but although enjoyable, this is not a holiday. New joiners should be aware that working in a sales environment can be pressured, with sales targets to be met on a regular basis.

Sources of information
Springboard UK: www.springboarduk.org.uk
Institute of Travel and Tourism: www.itt.co.uk
Irish Travel Agents Association: www.itaa.ie
UKSP: www.uksp.co.uk 
Guild of Travel Management Companies: www.gtmc.org
Apprenticeships: www.apprenticeships.org.uk
Accredited Travel Professional: www.travelprofessional.co.uk





 

 

 

 

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