So you want to be a travel agent working from home, eh? You may be thinking, “Well, I can’t just jump in and start doing it, can I?” Actually, you can. That’s pretty much what I did, back in the early nineties.
But I’m not recommending that you follow my example. Why? Because the “School of Hard Knocks” is the most expensive one you can find! I lost thousands before I figured out what’s what in the travel business.
So let’s take it as a given that you shouldlearn something about what being a travel agent is all about before you go off half cocked and cause yourself (and probably your first clients!) a lot of damage.
How Do Travel Agents Get Trained?
What are your options? Well, there are number of ways that travel agents get training:
Let’s look at each of these in turn and discuss the pros and cons of each, with special attention paid to their suitability for those looking to work from home – as opposed to working in a storefront travel agency.
The Apprentice Route
Years ago, the best way to learn a trade was to be an apprentice. You went to work for someone who knew the business or craft inside out and worked for little or no pay while you learned the business. This phenomenon has pretty much disappeared in the United States, although it still exists in some trades in Europe.
If you are very lucky, you might find a travel agent, either a storefront agent or a home-based one, who would be willing to take you under their wing and teach you how the travel distribution system works.
When I was just getting interested in selling travel I was lucky enough to stumble on this kind of arrangement with a wonderful agent who was, at that time, operating out of the back of a dry cleaning store. But he had big plans and went on to build a multi-million dollar business, eventually transitioning to the wholesale side of the business.
I helped out, for no pay, in exchange for learning some of the ropes. Unfortunately, this type of arrangement is extremely rare. But, who knows you might get lucky.
The best part about this kind of arrangement is that it is low-stress and informal and, depending on the rapport you build with your mentor, you can learn a lot of “inside baseball” type information that you’d spend years doping lout otherwise.
On the downside, as I’ve said already, the odds of stumbling into this type of arrangement are vanishingly small.
Getting Hired by a Travel Agency
Another way of accomplishing much the same thing is to talk your way into getting a storefront travel agency to hire you. And when I say “talk your way into” I mean that you’ll probably have to do a lot of convincing if you have no background.
Most storefront agencies, if they are hiring at all, want someone who has passed the TAP Test. In my opinion, the TAP Test doesn’t mean a lot, but travel agencies use it as a convenient way to screen applicants. But to take this exam you pretty much have to have gone through some formal travel agent curriculum. Those programs are discussed a bit later.
Twenty years ago, it was a lot easier for a raw beginner to get hired by a brick-and-mortar travel agency than it is now. In fact, I’d be tempted to say you can pretty much forget about it. But if you’d like to give it a shot, making the rounds of local agencies will probably be an education in itself.
If you are successful, you’ll enjoy the advantage of working with a group of agents who, together, probably represent a broad range of skills and experience. More than the tasks you’re assigned, the water cooler chit chat will probably be the most rewarding part of the experience.
The downside is that, assuming you are hired at all, you will be assigned to the most boring and repetitive tasks, such as entering point-to-point airline bookings in the GDS. This is not where the money is and the danger is that the experience might put you off the travel business before you get a chance to experience how much fun it can be.
For-Profit Travel Academies
Another way to learn the travel, agenting business is to enroll in a school of some sort where you can get some formal, classroom training.
I distinguish among several different “flavors” of academic travel industry curriculums.
The first are the for-profit career schools. They could specialize in teaching travel agents or they could offer a number of different specialties in the travel and hospitality industry. They might even offer courses of study in a wider range of professions.
Some of those that specialize in travel agents may be owned and operated by travel agencies. Here, part of the lure is that you will have an inside track on a job at that agency when you have completed your course of study.
The term “for-profit” is important here. You may have read some news report about how this sector of the education industry has come under fire for luring students with the promise of government scholarships and a ready job market at graduation, only to leave their students with a pile of debt, no job, and no realistic means of paying off those loans.
Of course, at that point it’s not the school’s problem. The school got their money from the government up front and now the newly minted and jobless travel agent is left holding the bag.
That’s not to say that all schools of this sort are shady operators. Far from it. Many are run by or staffed with dedicated travel professionals who do their best to prepare students for the profession.
But the fact remains that, as a prospective student, you need to weigh the considerable cost against the small likelihood of reward. And just because there’s an easy loan on offer does not mean that the tuition is free.
What Do These Schools Teach?
The courses at these for-profit travel schools teach order entry skills. If you are looking for know-how, you should be aware that the training at these travel academies is designed, primarily, to train low-paying, entry-level employees for travel agencies.
Consequently, their courses concentrate on dull, rote tasks like using the GDS or Global Distribution System. These schools are very good at this and if you want to learn how to use a specific GDS, then turning to one of their specialized travel courses might be a good choice.
Even then, travel schools are not your only choice. Many GDS vendors offer computer-based training on their systems that you can use at home. If you work through a “host agency” as a home-based travel agent, the host agency might offer training on the GDS it uses.
These systems have their place, of course, but it is perfectly possible to have a long and prosperous career as a travel agent without ever going near a GDS. On top of that, the vast majority of products booked on the GDS are airline trips, which pay no commission at all!
Another major downside of this scenario is that in order to present themselves to the government as serious academic institutions they have to create serious academic curriculums.
That’s why so many of these schools offering to prepare you for a travel career are heavy on classes on geography, world cultural awareness and the like.
What They DON’T Teach
By and large, these for-profit travel industry schools do not teach you how to think like an agency owner or how to get out in the community and sell travel. That’s because they are designed to serve the needs of brick-and-mortar travel agencies and airline reservations centers, providing them a steady stream of entry-level employees who will sit at a computer screen all day and enter orders.
These schools also don’t go out of their way to teach you that selling cheap, point-to-point airline tickets (which is what the GDS is designed to do, after all) is no way to get rich quick — or to get rich at all, for that matter. Once again, this is because they serve the travel agency business first and foremost. Creating successful travel agents is a secondary concern, if it is considered at all.
To their credit, some of these travel schools are adapting to the new reality of home-based agents by offering courses in how to become one. In fact, some travel agent curriculums are using my materials to teach their courses! The same materials you get in my home study course for far, far less than the tuition charged by travel agent schools.
If your goal is to become a home-based travel agent, selling the joy and excitement of travel, think long and hard about whether the curriculums in these travel training institutions makes sense. And try to find one that at least recognizes the existence of the home-based agent who chooses to bypass the agency system.
Online Courses From For-Profits
So many of these institutions also offer online, long-distance courses as well. Some may offer only online courses.
The good part of this is that they may be cheaper than the full-fledged in-person instruction. The bad part is that the savings aren’t all that great, especially when you consider that you lose the advantage of one-on-one attention and the opportunity to ask questions on the spur of the moment.
And once again, they are teaching you things you may not need to know about parts of the world you have no interest in selling. They may also be trying to teach the GDS.
Colleges, Universities, and Community Colleges That Teach Travel
Another source of training for would-be travel agents are colleges, universities, and community colleges. My totally unscientific observation is that community colleges are the ones most likely to offer courses that would appeal to wannabe home-based travel agents.
Of course, many of these institutions are for profit, just like the travel schools we just discussed. The major difference is that these institutions offer academic degrees, like associate degrees. If you want them, that is.
It is usually possible to take just a course of two that appeals to you. In the case of course about how to be a travel agent or home-based travel agent, many of these course are taught by a travel agent who is moonlighting from their day job or who is retired.
Of course, they could be taught by an active home-based agent. If that’s the case, then the course could offer some of the mentoring advantages of an apprenticeship.
Another possible benefit is that this route might be less expensive than a for-profit vocational career school, especially if you can pick and choose the courses you take.
The downside is that, to keep the administration happy, these courses need to look “academic.” So there is the likelihood of having to plow through material that, while interesting, really has little relevance on how you make money in the real world.
Travel Training At These Schools Is Expensive
You should also understand that travel agent schools are not cheap. This is true whether you are going to a specialist travel industry educational institution, taking one of their online course, or going to a community college for your travel training. The training they provide costs anywhere from $800 for a single course to many thousands for a complete series.
You can save yourself thousands of dollars and prepare yourself for the travel agent career you really want by skipping these expensive schools altogether and seeking out less expensive ways of getting the training you need, training that is targeted to your needs, not the needs of storefront agencies. Look for training that will prepare you to start immediately working one-to-one with customers, selling them high-margin travel products and putting serious money in your pocket. Travel agent training programs like the ones we have been discussing are not designed to do this.
I talk more about your options in the next section. But before we move on, let’s consider a question I hear a lot, one that reveals a very common misconception.
But Don’t I Need The Certification From One of These Schools To Be A Travel Agent?
In a word, “No.” True, if you want one of those low-paying, entry-level jobs in a travel agency, a “certificate” or “diploma” from some travel school might help. But even then it’s not absolutely necessary. And it certainly won’t guarantee that you get a job.
The plain truth is you do not need certification or a license to be a highly successful travel agent.
What About Getting Trained By A Host Agency?
This seems like a nice solution, sort of one-stop shopping. You sign up with a host agency and they teach you how to be a travel agent.
In fact, some host agencies are now advertising “free” training. It’s not free, of course, because you paid a fee – sometimes a hefty fee – to join the host agency.
(By the way, if you are unfamiliar with the concept, host agencies are discussed elsewhere on this site.)
The major problem with this picture is that host agencies have a very different agenda than a home-based travel agent does.
People who fall for this pitch think in terms of “working for” their host agency and that mindset is dangerous to your wealth.
Most host agencies are honest and upstanding businesses, but they are businesses, not educational institutions. They are certainly not charities. Their first loyalty if to their own profitability. There’s nothing wrong with that.
But consider this: the home-based travel agent, as an independent contractor, is a business just like the host agency. And so the home-based agent’s first loyalty should be to her own profitability
That’s why host agencies only teach you what they want you to know. What will best serve their business and their profits.
For example, if the host agency offers a 60% commission split, they are not going to teach you how easy it is to get 70%, 80%, or even more!
They will certainly not teach you that there are some major types of travel products that you can sell without having to involve the host agency at all. You get to keep all the commission.
These are just some of the reasons that I believe that host agency training is something of an oxymoron.
Fam-Seminars for Newbie Travel Agents
You may have heard of familiarization trips, or fam trips. These are sponsored by travel suppliers to give travel agents a chance to get to know the suppliers cruise ships or resorts or whatever. The best of them are offered free. So almost by definition they are reserved for travel agents who have been in the business for a while.
In addition, they are almost exclusively about product knowledge, as opposed to nitty-gritty sales skills and marketing methods. Suppliers will say they want to teach agents how to sell their products but all too often that means rattling off a long list of features and maybe some benefits.
A variation on this theme is the fam-seminar, sometimes offered by suppliers but more often than not organized by a professional association with the help of a supplier. These are most often open to both beginning and experienced agents.
Again, the emphasis is on product knowledge – experience our ship for a week and you’ll know how to sell it! – but often the seminar portion of the trip (a few hours of classroom instruction) will provide some useful sales oriented information.
The advantage of these trips, which typically cost a modest sum, is that they allow newbie travel agents to experience some of the perks of the business and get to pick the brains of more experienced agents. But these newbies need to have at least some experience or at the very least a good working knowledge of the travel industry and the travel distribution system before they will even know how and where to apply for a fam-seminar.
The Home-Based Travel Agent Success Course
That’s where I come in. My home-study course is designed to teach you what the host agencies and the for-profit schools, and the community colleges don’t or won’t teach you.
It shows you how to get a jump-start on other would-be agents by providing you the street-wise information about how the business really works. This is know-how that takes many agents years to figure out by trial and error.
At every step, the emphasis of my course is on saving you as much money as possible while showing you how to make the highest commissions possible.
It puts you on an equal footing with those host agencies and their slick offers so that when you choose the host you want to work with, you will be choosing wisely, not guessing wildly.
The course even shows you how to set up your business in such a way that you don’t need a host agency at all. What’s more you’ll know how to start your very own travel agency and recruit outside agents to work for you, leveraging the amount of money your own independent agency can bring in.
There is also an emphasis on sales. Selling is a necessary part of being a travel agent. While passion and a love of travel are important. While expertise in a destination or a mode of travel is a tremendous asset, nothing happens until somebody sells something. Very few travel school teach this and those that do tend to do it superficially.
I could go on, but you might be better served to simply read the other articles on this site about a travel career and some of the tips for travel agents, browse through the table of contents for the course, check out some of the posts about the travel industry on the blog. There is also a resource section as well.
And if you haven’t already signed up for my newsletter, please do.
For now, let me wish you the best of success in all your future endeavors and happy travels.
I look forward to having you as a student.