Last Updated on June 22, 2020 by Amanda Stancati
Written by manager of recruitment & training – Kevin Quin
I might be a bit biased here, as I would consider myself a travel lifer: working in the industry nearly 30 years, I started as an agent at a “sell – off house” and moved into recruiting and training travel agents for a large Canadian retailer. Even though I have done a fair amount of corporate travel in my life, leisure travel is the focus of my work life. It’s simply more fun for me.
I do know that there is a whole lot of myths out there as to why you shouldn’t become a travel agent. But they are that: just myths, typically started by someone that didn’t grow and change within their industry. Or worse, the person that takes a little bit of information and predicts the demise of a job they know nothing about.
MYTH 1: The internet ruined retail travel and agents aren’t needed anymore
Here is a history lesson. Way back in the 1980s, a new trend hit everyone’s home: the VHS tape and VCR recorders – a new cutting edge technology at the time. I remember the Screen Actors Guild being up in arms stating “this will ruin the film industry.” All VCR recorders and tapes did was expand the marketplace to spots on the earth where the products weren’t available and opened up access to the true masses. The exact same thing happened in retail travel. With the internet and online technology, we get our information and services out to the rest of the world, and are equipped with better research methods and tools to offer you the best products. With technology on the rise, there are still many benefits to using a travel agent like organizing complex itineraries, insight from someone who’s actually been there, and something to call for assistance before or during your vacation. A good travel agent can communicate this to their customers.
MYTH 2: It takes too long to become an expert at travel
You are, in theory, trying to sell travel to all spots on the earth. It would be natural to think you have to have a lot of knowledge about those places. The truth is, it works no different than a lawyer or doctor who have to solve an abundance of problems. When you have a legal or medical problem, the first place they call on their past experience or consult books or online sources for information. This is exactly why when you go on WebMD and diagnose yourself, it’s typically the rarest deadly disease on the planet. When you go the expert (your doctor), you find out you have a cold, not Ebola.
That’s exactly how travel works – you have to be better at accessing information than your competitor, not have a higher knowledge level. You have to know where to go to get that information and it has to be accurate. Yes, it takes some time, but it takes time to become an expert on any subject, it doesn’t matter what industry you are in. And as a travel agent, you have access to insider information from hotels and suppliers that customers don’t. And you have a support network of experienced professionals to assist you.
MYTH 3: There is no money in travel
That is just wrong, wrong, wrong. Some agents, when in the appropriate remuneration program, can push or exceed 100k per year. It’s not impossible, but it does take a couple of years to get to that level of production. I think it’s like anything – you work hard, have good leadership and training, and you can make a lot of money. I haven’t even mentioned the travel opportunities that have a dollar value, and even better experience value. Did I mention that each time you sell products from product suppliers, you can earn points towards free, discounted travel, or even cold hard cash? Suppliers want to be the ones the travel agent sells, so agent booking incentives are rampant.
It’s pretty easy to counter myths, and negative views of any role, but truly, what are the benefits for someone entering the role of travel agent? In my experience, no matter what job you have, if you are going to be successful, you have to enjoy what you do. A travel agent needs to enjoy people and have sufficient ego drive to “make the sale.” The right candidate enjoys the challenges of finding information and is not fazed by rejection. Ultimately, working as a travel agent is about making sales, and with that, you have to overcome objections. You also have to understand that there is a lot of choices for consumers out there, and if you can juggle sales priorities better than average, you will reap the benefits. Just don’t take it personal if someone doesn’t book. Move on to the next potential customer.
Here is what, in my experience, will be the sweet spots for people looking for a career in travel.
1. You get to travel
You will hear stories from old agents that FAMS (familiarization trips for travel industry members) don’t happen like they used to. But it does. Every industry magazine has a FAM section, sales reps organize FAMs, and there are year-round travel agent rates at every product level. You simply have to look and ask suppliers for deals for personal travel. I once sold 10 tickets to New Zealand over the course of a year, and got 2 free tickets from the airline.
2. Make money
Because the travel industry is driven by sales, most vacation sellers work on some form of remuneration based on performance. Even some corporate travel will pay a steady salary based on your performance and production. Additionally, a lot of the suppliers you deal with have cash or product incentives, meaning every time you sell one of their products, they will give you cash or points towards free travel.
If you are social, genuinely enjoy talking with people, and more importantly, place value on your services and knowledge, you will be adored by your clients. It’s kind of an ego boost for consumers to say “my travel agent said…”, and for the agent, a true sense of accomplishment. And sometimes they bring you back a bottle of wine from their travels 🙂
Sometimes, you have to deal with silly questions like these, but they give you a good laugh and reassure you that you are needed. Customers really do value their travel agents, just take a look at our outstanding customer reviews that people have taken the time to write.
If you ever spent time with your head buried in a National Geographic in awe of the world, you can learn so much about those places just by researching them for clients. If you have any sort of geek gene in you, it’s actually fun to research and plan someone’s ideal vacation – and it’s rewarding once they come back and tell you that you have perfectly matched a trip to their needs.
Manipulating today’s technology is imperative to success as a travel agent. If you have a desire and acumen to use the resources available you, you would be amazed at what you can source for your clients. The beauty is a lot of organizations are building their own software and other tools that process the information so quickly. The industry as a whole is much more advanced- it makes me wonder how I ever survived phoning the airlines and hand writing tickets back in the dark ages.
Over the last 30 years, I have interviewed, hired, and trained a lot of people – well into the hundreds, if not into the thousands. I taught some travel at the college level. I currently recruit, deliver and help develop training to 100+ agents. I think I can safely say what works and what doesn’t work for individuals in the travel agent role. To be honest, a lot of it is simple logic and a positive approach. I am always excited to see new people enter the business because they typically have a lot of these traits. I also believe when you are younger, the sense of exploration and discovery about the world and yourself are at their highest. As someone that never wanted to let go of those youthful feelings, I am so glad I chose travel.
Ever wondered what makes tripcentral.ca travel agents so different and happier than their industry peers? If you’re passionate about sharing your travel experiences, are currently working as a travel agent or have sales experience and serious wanderlust – we’d love to meet you!