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Travel Agents - What They Do

How to Advance (Advancement)
Some employees start as reservation clerks or receptionists in travel agencies. With experience and some formal training, they can take on greater responsibilities and eventually assume travel agent duties. In agencies with many offices, travel agents may advance to busier offices or to office manager or other managerial positions.

Those who start their own agencies generally have experience in an established agency. These agents must gain formal approval from suppliers or corporations, such as airlines, ship lines, or rail lines, to extend credit on reservations and to ensure payment. The Airlines Reporting Corporation and the International Airlines Travel Agency Network, for example, are the approving bodies for airlines. To gain approval, an agency must be financially sound and employ at least one experienced manager or travel agent.

Travel agents held about 105,300 jobs in May 2008 and are found in every part of the country. About 76 percent worked for travel arrangement and reservation services with 60 percent in travel agencies. Another 17 percent were self-employed.

Job Outlook
Little or no change in employment is expected over the 2008–18 period. Applicants with formal training should have the best opportunities to get a job as a travel agent. Travel agents who specialize in specific destinations or in certain types of travel or travelers should have the best chance for success.

Job Growth
Employment of travel agents is expected to decline by 1 percent over the 2008–18 period. The ease of Internet use and the ready availability of travel and airline Web sites that allow people to research and plan their own trips, make their own reservations, and purchase their own tickets will result in less demand for travel agents for routine travel arrangements. However, as more travelers take exotic and customized trips, the demand for some of the specialized services offered by travel agents will grow. Additionally, the increasing number of international visitors to the United States represents a growing market for travel agents who organize and sell tours to these international visitors.

Applicants with formal training should have the best opportunities to get a job as a travel agent. Agents who specialize in specific destinations, luxury travel, or particular types of travelers, such as ethnic groups or groups with a special interest or hobby, should have the best chance for success.

The demand for travel agents may decline during economic downturns and international crises, when travel plans are likely to be deferred. Thus, job opportunities for travel agents will fluctuate with changing economic and global conditions. Many openings, though, are expected to occur as agents leave for other occupations or retire.

Experience, sales ability, and the size and location of the agency determine the salary of a travel agent. Median annual wages of travel agents were $30,570 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $23,940 and $38,390. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $18,770, while the top 10 percent earned more than $47,860. Median wages in May 2008 for travel agents employed in the travel arrangement and reservation services industry were $30,470.

Salaried agents usually enjoy standard employer-paid benefits that self-employed agents must provide for themselves. When traveling for personal reasons, agents usually get reduced rates for transportation and accommodations. In addition, agents sometimes take “familiarization” trips, at lower cost or no cost to themselves, to learn about various vacation sites. These benefits often attract people to this occupation.

Earnings of travel agents who own their agencies depend mainly on commissions and service fees they charge clients for trip planning. Often it takes time to acquire clients, so it is not unusual for new self-employed agents to have low earnings. Established agents may have lower earnings during economic downturns.

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