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Travel Agents Licensing?
February 9, 2007 3:24 AM   Subscribe

What does it take to become a travel agent? Do you have to be a licensed travel agent to make plans for people or can anybody do it?

I'm considering becoming a travel agent once I've finished university, as I have what I believe to be a novel idea for a business. However, I was wondering what it takes to become a travel agent, specifically in the UK, but also in other countries too.

Can anyone make travel arrangements for others or do you need a license etc? How do companies like expedia, opodo etc get around this?

I've read the thread about Travel Agents becoming obsolete, but don't think this question has been asked before.

Any and all anecdotes are welcome, or a simple "don't do it!" etc.

Thanks for anything and all everyone :)
posted by philsi to Law & Government (6 answers total)
 
I had a friend in Europe who was a travel agent in Europe; she left the job a couple of years ago when competition from self-serve online 'agents' (like Expedia) and self-booking methods became so easy to use that her pay (which was largely commission-based) kept shrinking. She did well up to the end, but she realised that the future of the business would not be to the benefit of the agent. Your 'novel idea' may make a big difference, but it's a shrinking business in most places. Even where I live here in America, I have noticed several travel agencies in my neighborhood disappear in the past few years.

I've no idea about licensing for individual agents, sorry!
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 4:06 AM on February 9, 2007


I have a friend who used to work at STA travel (think: budget student travel agency). In his interview, he shared with them his love of travel and stories from his trips. He spoke clearly and dressed nicely. He had used computers before (Word, Windows, that sort of thing). This was pretty-much all that was needed to get the gig.

The primary thing to learn besides the various popular travel packages was Sabre, where all the flights, rail times and hotel bookings were entered. They taught him on the job, naturally, and I believe it was about five months before he was proficient enough to be helping others.

He did it for about three years before becoming absolutely demoralized by the patrons. You'd think that people planning their holidays would be in jovial spirits, but I think the "budget" aspect invited the worst of the penny-pinchers. He vowed to never work in a customer-service-related field ever again. But your air miles may vary.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:15 AM on February 9, 2007


Here in Canada there are college training programs for it, but I have no idea if they're required or just a good idea.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:44 AM on February 9, 2007


Civil_Disobediant has it right, as far as what it takes to get in the door. Once your friend has a job, they will set him up with an IATAN card (it is the industry standard ID for travel agents, and gets the agent special travel benefits).

I work on the software side of a major luxury travel consortium. The truth is that travel agents are being steadily squeezed out of the business by all of the online booking engines, but that doesn't necessarily make the role of a travel agent obsolete. For commodity travel (I.E. - simple in-country flights or rack rate hotel booking), there is really no profit for the travel agent. On the other hand, for booking complex travel to international locations, there is still quite a bit of money to be made. And in any case, here is a simple anecdote regarding why travel agents can still be important: in the immediate wake of 9/11, when travelers were stranded for weeks because of the huge disruptions, people who booked their trips with live travel agents instead of through online sources like Expedia made it home on average a full week sooner. When everything goes right, you don't need a travel agent. But as soon as something goes terribly wrong, having a human being working on your behalf can make a huge difference.
posted by Lokheed at 7:53 AM on February 9, 2007


There's also still a need for travel agents to serve professional organizations who hold large conferences. (Between invited speakers and VIPs, there are hundreds of people who need to make travel plans, which are billed to the org's master account. The org generally get a break on airfare due to the volume.)

I wish there was more competition, actually...there's only one staff member at the travel agency used by my organization that is worth a damn. But oh, the miracles she pulled off for me, arranging complicated travel itineraries for meeting attendees from Africa and China and Eastern Europe, checking to make sure they had secured both visitor and transit visas where necessary, and generally going the extra mile (no pun intended) for me to bring people to the US on impossibly short notice. THAT is something that I absolutely could not have done myself, even if I'd had all day to play around on Expedia, ya know?
posted by desuetude at 8:09 AM on February 9, 2007


I work in the tour operator business - we actually create and design unusual, sometimes complicated and often very expensive trips for clients who are going to Asia, Southeast Asia, and South America. And yes, travel agents often come to us because they haven't been to some of the more remote destinations or don't know enough about it. You don't need any kind of license to be in the tour operator business, but very specialized knowledge of certain areas (being there once on a week's holiday doesn't qualify) is a big factor in working in our company. Also, we don't deal with international airfares at all (thank god) since 90% of our clients book their own air on their internet or use miles to fly. Perks - we get to travel to research our destinations in-depth, pretty much all expenses paid. Do I get rich from this job? No. Do I love my job? Yes!
posted by HeyAllie at 10:17 AM on February 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


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