A travel agent’s role is diverse and layered. While booking holidays is obviously the prime criterion, there’s so much more to the job. What about ensuring your client has the right visa, the correct insurance, and that the tickets are issued correctly….
There’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes and that all takes time, knowledge and skill.
However, all the hard work is worth the while, because working in travel has to be one of the most exciting industries there is.
As well as being a highly rewarding career that can help you forge amazing relationships with your clients, it also has the added bonus of allowing you the opportunity to travel the world and explore destinations you’ve always dreamed of.
For those of you with an inner drive and passion for travel and creating amazing holidays, one question that will be on your mind is how long does it take to become a travel agent?
In this article, we explore the answer to this question and look at several different paths you can pursue on the road to becoming a travel agent in the UK. Let’s get started.
Understanding the role of a travel agent
The sheer variety of options available in the world of travel is astounding. There are literally millions of global destinations that one can explore. What travellers often search for is advice that is tailored to meet their specific travel needs. From the geographical location to accommodation, visas, restaurant recommendations and fun activities, this is where a travel agent comes in.
With no two days ever being the same, a travel agent’s role and responsibilities are intricate. A travel agent’s day could include activities such as calls to customers, responding to new enquiries, marketing and posting on social media, creating quotes and itineraries, researching new holiday offers in one’s niche or even attending a trade or supplier’s online conference call.
While these are just a small snapshot of what you could do as a travel agent, this career path is highly rewarding both on a personal and professional level. For example, you can become a travel agent from home, you can have access to uncapped earnings, you can travel to your dream destinations and you can help people have the holiday of a lifetime.
Ideally, you’ll want to hone some of your skills to ensure that you provide the best possible service, and just some of these skills include customer service, verbal and written communication, sales, attention to detail, administrative, listening, computer and software, persuasion and negotiation skills and a desire to help others.
To become a travel agent, you can choose to pursue post-secondary education options. This could include getting a travel and tourism degree, certificate or diploma. In most cases, you’ll need four or five GCSEs at grades 4 to 9, or equivalent, for a level three course.
You can also attend online courses and vocational schools, meaning that it could take anywhere from a few months to several years to get your professional travel qualification.
In addition, in an industry that’s constantly changing with new customer preferences and various economic and environmental factors coming into play, the role of continuous education in your career will be pivotal.
Whether you’d like to find a formal course or develop your skills, there are important useful resources that you can take advantage of to help you embark on your travel agent journey.
Licensing also plays a role in becoming a trusted travel agent. Being a certified travel agent gives you more weight in the industry and having the right certifications means that you will be safer from liability in the event of certain client trips not going as planned.
A brief overview of different certification options includes:
- Air Travel Organiser’s Licensing (ATOL): if you have an ATOL licence, you can sell airline tickets to your customers. What’s important to note is that flights that are booked directly with airlines do not carry ATOL protection. ATOL licences are diverse and cater to a broad array of industry players including agencies, trade sales, franchises, etc.
- Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA): ABTA licences cover customers travelling by train, coach or ship. As one of the most widely recognised trade associations, you can take advantage of its detailed industry updates, legal advice, crisis management and more.
- The Travel Trust Association (TTA): for travel agents looking for affordable protection from liability, the TTA emerges as an affordable alternative to an ABTA licence. Through this membership, you can enjoy industry support, access to state-of-the-art travel technology, etc.
- The Association of Independent Tour Operators Limited (AITO): AITO does not provide an industry licence. However, it can offer advice to its members on a multitude of travel-related aspects such as legal advice, training, marketing, industry discussions, etc.
Just some of the advantages of holding a travel agent licence and bonding include:
- Add greater legitimacy to your service offering
- Empower customers with confidence that they’ll receive a reliable and trustworthy service
- Prove to holiday companies that you are a serious industry player
- Enjoy greater peace of mind
- Get help in the event of a crisis such as legal advice and operational support
- Enjoy promotional offers and receive essential industry updates
- Stay ahead of your competitors as you gain a market edge.
Gaining industry experience is one of the best ways to solidify your career as a travel agent. For those just starting out, you can find entry-level positions within the travel industry. Alternatively, you can apply for internships and apprenticeships in travel agencies.
Many of these internships, such as those of British Airways, last for a period of around three months and they equip you with important skills and industry knowledge that can help you enjoy greater success in your career as a travel agent.
For those who are aiming to pivot from an existing career to become a travel agent, the value of your previous experience in related fields, such as hospitality, customer service, sales and others, will come in extremely handy.
Building expertise happens over time once you are firmly established within the industry. Having served multiple customers, your destination knowledge and travel experience will become vital tools that you can rely on to create even more memorable trips and experiences for others.
As your experience and knowledge continue to grow, you will also constantly be resharpening your travel agent skills toolkit to become even better at what you do.
To build your expertise, you always need to stay ahead of the curve and an important way to do this is to attend industry events, seminars and webinars led by prominent industry players.
Some prominent industry conferences that you might consider attending include:
- World Travel Market (WTM)
- Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA)
- Luxury Travel Fair
- Hotel 360
- Cruise Liners International Association (CLIA)
Opening a franchise
Although the route to becoming a travel agent may seem quite lengthy, there is another alternative. When it comes to the question of how long it takes to become a travel agent, the answer is that it can be as quick as you wish. This can all be achieved when you consider joining a travel franchise.
There are multiple considerations you will need to bear in mind but there are many benefits of working with an established brand, a proven and resilient business model as well as understanding and support offered by the franchisor, in addition to many others.
The Travel Franchise is one such option. This particular travel franchise is geared up for those wanting to set up their own travel agency without having had any prior experience within the travel sector. Some 98% of franchisees are completely new to the industry. Training begins with an intensive five-day induction course, after which you’ll be able to start taking holiday bookings immediately. Ongoing training, mentorship and overseas conferences are all provided as part of the ongoing support from The Travel Franchise.
Becoming a travel agent is a dream career for many. While you can pursue this path via the formal educational or apprenticeship route, it’s worth remembering that you can always pursue travel franchise opportunities. These give you the freedom and flexibility to start a travel agency business with established support and start right away with no prior experience or education required.
As an aspiring travel agent, you should weigh up your options and choose the path that works best for you and your personal and professional goals. Overall, the career is highly rewarding and will open a world of possibilities that you never thought possible.