Job: Travel agent
The role: A travel agent helps people plan and arrange travel for personal and/or business trips. They offer advice on where to go and stay, as well as notifying travellers of the documentation needed at various destinations.
They also help to secure the best airfares and accommodation rates and advise on local tourist attractions, events and customs at the travel destination. Travel agents work with airlines, cruise lines, resorts, and car rental companies in order to secure travel arrangements for their customers, said David McCaig, president of the Association of Canadian Travel Agencies (ACTA).
He said travel agents also stay on top of the latest news at various destinations to help ensure that it's still a safe place for their customers to go.
Salary: Starts at about $30,000 for an entry-level position. Mr. McCaig said most leisure travel companies have an incentive pay program, which provides bonuses based on sales. "Travel agents that specialize or work in niche markets tend to earn higher salaries," he said. A travel agent who is experienced, knowledgeable and good at sales can earn in excess of $100,000 annually.
Education: Travel and tourism programs range in length from six months at a private career college to two years at a community college, according to ACTA. There are also online courses offered in Canada for aspiring travel agents.
Some travel agents have a university degree in hospitality and tourism management, which is a four-year program. Mr. McCaig said most travel and tourism programs offer work placement or co-op opportunities as part of their curriculum.
"Education for travel agents is an ongoing process with many achieving specialist designations with both suppliers and destination training," he said. The professional designation for travel agents is Certified Travel Counsellor (CTC) and Certified Travel Manager (CTM), which are earned by passing an exam endorsed through E-Merit in Canada and administered by the ACTA.
Information on programs and certification can be found here: www.acta.ca/education.
By the numbers: There are about 24,500 "travel counsellors" in Canada, according to Statistics Canada's 2011 National Household Survey. Travel counsellors are described as people who advise others on "travel options and tour packages, make bookings and reservations, prepare tickets and receive payment." According to the survey, about 90 per cent are employed by travel agencies, transportation and tourism firms and hotel chains, while the other 10 per cent are self-employed. The number of travel counsellors fell by about 14 per cent from the 2006 census.
Job prospects: Despite the growing number of online travel sites, Mr. McCaig said job prospects for travel agents are good. "Companies are hiring and looking for people with a college education and workplace experience," he said. What's more, he said, the average age for a travel agent is 50 to 55 years. "As more and more agents retire, there will be a demand in the industry for new travel agents."
Challenges: Mr. McCaig said the Internet is a challenge to the overall profession, as more people book their own travel online. However, "it has not posed to be as big of an obstacle as previously anticipated, as many people discover that their knowledge in making travel arrangements is limited and the process is time consuming."
He said many people do their own research online, and then turn to a travel agent to complete the actual booking.
"Many challenges that travel agents deal with are beyond their control but directly impact their sales," he said. That includes slow economic growth, the value of the Canadian dollar, civil unrest and terrorism.
Why they do it: A love of travel, and helping others explore new places, too. "Many people choose a career in the travel industry because they personally love to travel, share their experiences, enjoy working with the public and like the variety that the industry as a whole offers," Mr. McCaig said.
Misconceptions: It's a myth that agents always travel free, he said. "Travel agents are offered great discounts to experience destinations, hotels and cruise ships and also travel on company paid 'familiarization trips,'" which he said are educational and include inspecting hotels.
Travel agents are also more educated and worldly than many people expect. They need to be to be good at their job. "Given the vast number of destinations that one can travel to, the number of airlines, hotels, car rental companies, tours and cruises, a travel agent has much to learn to be successful in the job," Mr. McCaig said.
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