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Travel Agents - What They Do


Travel agents assist travelers by sorting through vast amounts of information to help their clients make the best possible travel arrangements. Travel agents offer advice on destinations and make arrangements for transportation, hotel accommodations, car rentals, and tours for their clients. In addition, resorts and specialty travel groups use travel agents to promote travel packages to their clients.

Travel agents are expected to be able to advise travelers about their destinations, such as the weather conditions, local ordinances and customs, attractions, and exhibitions. For those traveling internationally, agents also provide information on customs regulations, required documents (passports, visas, and certificates of vaccination), travel advisories, and currency exchange rates. In the event of changes in itinerary in the middle of a trip, travel agents intercede on the traveler's behalf to make alternate booking arrangements.

Travel agents use a variety of published and computer-based sources for information on departure and arrival times, fares, quality of hotel accommodations, and group discounts. They may also visit hotels, resorts, and restaurants themselves to evaluate the comfort, cleanliness, and the quality of specific hotels and restaurants so that they can base recommendations on their own experiences or those of colleagues or clients. Many travel agents specialize in specific destinations or regions; others specialize in travel targeted to particular demographic groups, such as senior citizens.

Travel agents who primarily work for tour operators and other travel arrangers may help develop, arrange, and sell the company's own package tours and travel services. They may promote these services, using telemarketing, direct mail, and the Internet. They make presentations to social and special-interest groups, arrange advertising displays, and suggest company-sponsored trips to business managers.

Work Environment
Travel agents spend most of their time behind a desk conferring with clients, completing paperwork, contacting airlines and hotels to make travel arrangements, and promoting tours. They also spend a considerable amount of time either on the telephone or on the computer researching travel itineraries or updating reservations and travel documents. Agents sometimes have to face a great deal of pressure during travel emergencies or when they need to reschedule missed reservations. They are especially busy during peak vacation times, such as summer and holiday travel periods. Many agents, especially those who are self-employed, frequently work more than 40 hours per week, although technology now allows a growing number of agents to work from home.

Education & Training Required
Most travel agencies prefer applicants who have received training specific to becoming a travel agent. Many vocational schools offer full-time travel agent programs. Travel agent courses also are offered in public adult education programs, online, and in community colleges. These programs teach students about geography, sales, marketing, and travel industry forms and procedures for ticketing and reservations.

A few colleges offer a bachelor's or master's degree in travel and tourism that can benefit prospective agents. Backgrounds in geography, foreign languages, or world history can also be useful for job applicants because they suggest an existing interest in travel and culture, which could help agents develop a rapport with clients.

Continuing education is critical for travel agents because the abundance of travel information readily available through the Internet and other sources has resulted in more informed consumers who expect travel agents to be experts in their field.

Other Skills Required (Other qualifications)
Travel agents must be well-organized, accurate, and detail oriented in order to compile information from various sources and to plan and organize travel itineraries. Agents must have excellent communication skills and must be professional and courteous when dealing with travel representatives and clients.

Personal travel experience is an asset because knowledge about a city or foreign country often helps influence a client's travel plans. Business experience or training is important for self-employed agents who run their own business. In addition, computer skills are necessary and essential, because most travel arrangements are now made using the Internet or electronic reservation systems.

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