How to Become a Travel Agent—Because, Believe It or Not, the Industry Is on the Rise

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There’s a reason “how to become a travel agent” has been a continuously trending search phrase on Google—it is a career path that offers a flexible work environment and schedule, ample travel opportunities, and an immersion into a supportive world-wide industry. It’s a surprise to some in 2023: Once the internet became widely available, it was largely believed that needing a travel agent was obsolete. However, even though the brick-and-mortar agencies with punny names in strip malls have vanished, the career is on-the-rise.

New software options are making it easier than ever for people to make money planning trips, either as a side hustle or as a full-time business. That’s why Cherikonda, India-based stay-at-home mother, Maya Kapoor-Miller, decided to enter the professional world as a travel agent this year, at 31. “I knew nothing about the travel industry prior to signing up,” says Kapoor-Miller, who decided to use San Francisco-based booking platform Dreamport to establish her online travel advisor business. “It is my first business in life, and the only one that you can start with no investment.”

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But there’s also a rise in demand. When people ventured back into the world after the pandemic, travel agents saw an overwhelming amount of business. And that momentum hasn’t stopped—when travel is complicated, like it was in 2020 and 2021, travelers turned to professional trip planners to create a seamless vacation. For better or worse, traveling has remained complicated and chaotic, with new rules being implemented (like Americans needing to pay a fee to visit Europe in 2024) and airline strikes and staffing issues. Offloading all of the nitty-gritty details to someone else is more appealing than ever.

For those entering the field, there’s also the age-old motivator: a love of travel. 

Shelton Ellis, who is based in North Carolina, recently saw these opportunities and left behind more than 20 years in public relations and global advertising to turn his passion into a career. “I was born with a wanderlust that would wear Rick Steves out,” Ellis says. “I decided to take the leap and follow that lifelong yearning. Transitioning into this role was really about learning how to monetize what I’m passionate about.”

Whether you are looking for a new career path or a lucrative side-hustle—or simply curious about those taking the plunge—here’s how to become a travel agent, from the qualifications and education required, to anticipated earnings, according to those who have made the shift in the past year. 

What exactly does a travel agent do?

Travel agents, or travel advisors (the term is mostly interchangeable), manage everything that goes into a trip for their clients: the flights, car transfers, accommodations, restaurant reservations, and more—they even inspire the itinerary. The reason people turn to travel agents, aside from having a helping hand during any travel chaos, is also to tap into the travel agent’s first-hand knowledge of destinations, and their industry partnerships, which often lead to perks such as hotel upgrades, ideal airplane seats, and experiences that can’t be found on a search engine.

“You have to remember that as a travel agent, you will be a guide for people during their happiest moments—family reunions, weddings, baptisms, and once-in-a-lifetime experiences that people have dreamt of,” says Kapoor-Miller. “It has been one of the most rewarding aspects of being a travel agent. You navigate people, inform them, and help them choose.”

So, how do you become a travel agent?

There are many ways to become a travel agent, from joining an existing travel agency, to starting an independent business from the ground up. Others are opting for one of the buzziest start-ups in the travel industry, Fora. When it launched in 2021, the software company, which trains and provides search engine-optimized profile pages to advisors—at one point had a waitlist of over 30,000 people eager to begin a part-time gig. Travel photographer and Condé Nast Traveler contributor Amanda Villarosa is currently in the process of joining.

“I’m the person that friends and family come to for travel recommendations, tips and tricks, and general travel advice,” says Villarosa. “After discovering Fora and looking into it, I realized that it could be the perfect side-hustle, considering I’m already so involved in the industry.”

With additional flexibility, Villarosa was able to move from New York City to splitting her time between Denver and Los Angeles. She says that the sign-up was quite straightforward. “You’re given a dedicated Fora email and have access to advising tools and fellow Fora advisors,” she says. “The training is in the form of Zoom meetings and videos, which you have the option to watch at your own pace. Once completed, you take a certification quiz and you’re on your way to advising.”

The other ways in are slightly more involved. To begin an independent practice, you go about it like many other businesses. You will have to create an LLC, establish a business name, cultivate marketing materials, build a website, find clientele, and more.

Ellis found something in the middle, choosing to connect with an established travel agency. “Don’t be afraid to reach out to an agency looking to take on new advisors and is willing to mentor,” says Ellis. “I was fortunate to learn so much from Annie Chambers, the owner of Crafted Escapes, who has seven years in the business.” He now knows the ropes on everything from using itinerary-building software to destination-specific training, to the sales and marketing aspects of the trade.

Is there required education or qualifications?

Ellis says that there’s no certification, per se, required to become a travel advisor, but there are countless training courses available like Departure Lounge’s classes on navigating the industry through hotels and tour operators. He said it’s also important to stay on top of travel trends. Ellis recently completed travel agent training programs provided by premier cruise lines such as Virgin Voyages, Ritz-Carlton Yachts, and Cunard to help agents sell their products more accurately.

How much does a travel agent make?

What a travel agent earns depends on how many trips they successfully book for their clients. The entire model is commission-based, meaning agents earn a percentage of the total cost of the vacation they orchestrate. Many travel advisors choose to charge a flat-rate planning fee in addition to their commission, but balance is key—if you charge a high planning fee, it could lead to potential clients going elsewhere.

Fora’s website states that “some of our full-time, expert advisors earn well into the six figures (or beyond).” So a lucrative career may be on the horizon, for those who are able to build a robust client base and excellent industry connections.

How much you make can also depend on where you live around the world. “I am being paid in dollars,” says India-based Kapoor-Miller. “So the currency fluctuations of the local exchange rate are not something I am worried about.”

What are the key skills required to become a travel agent?

“Travel agents need a mix of customer service, communication, destination knowledge, organizational, and problem-solving skills,” says Kapoor-Miller. “But I would say that adaptability, flexibility, curiosity, and cultural sensitivity top them all—you have to put yourself in other’s shoes, and understand the requirements, hopes, and expectations of your clients along with any worries and questions they may have.”

It’s vital to have a passion for traveling, even the aspects of the process that aren’t as exciting, such as learning about new airline routes, train schedule updates, and industry news. “It can be an information-heavy hustle, and I believe it’s important to be excited about it as that energy definitely transfers to your clients and partners,” Villarosa says.

Should travel advisors choose a specialization?

Many travel advisors have found success through becoming an expert in a few types of travel and destinations. “It’s important to become an authority and learn as much as you can through personal experiences and continuing education,” says Ellis. “As a proud member of the LGBTQIA+ community, an avid snow skier, and scuba diver, I know not only the popular destinations but others that are off the beaten path, equally safe and adventurous for all travelers.” This helps travel agents establish a competitive edge, and hopefully convince potential clients to choose them for their expertise.

What are the benefits of being a travel agent?

“Flexibility tops them all,” says Kapoor-Miller. “And the ability to start without industry knowledge. If you worry that you are too old for this job, the good news is that this is a job you can enter and enjoy at any age.”

Another great perk is the “Familiarization trip,” says Ellis. “Tourism boards and hotels invite agents to visit and familiarize themselves with a particular country and its properties. After all, any accomplished salesperson should learn everything they can about their products first-hand…even if they’re in Bora Bora.” It’s hard work, but someone’s got to do it. 

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