Travel agents promote and sell holidays and other travel-related services, such as airline tickets, car hire, or foreign currency. They may be known by other job titles, such as travel agency sales consultant or sales clerk.
Much of their time is spent dealing with customers directly, but the work also involves administration and record keeping.
Most travel agents work in retail travel agencies, which are usually situated in high streets or other shopping centres. Selling package holidays to the public is their main activity.
Travel agents working in retail outlets usually:
There are also opportunities to work in contact centres (also known as call centres). Here, the work involves dealing with customers by phone, email, text messaging, fax and post. The emphasis is on sales, with administrative tasks carried out elsewhere in the organisation.
Travel agents can specialise in working with business customers. This type of work tends to be office-based, and client contact is by telephone or email.
Travel agents normally work between 35 and 40 hours a week, covering five days between Monday and Saturday. Rotas are usually planned to provide maximum cover on Saturdays, with days off allocated during the week. Agencies may open on Sundays. Part-time work is possible.
Agents in contact centres usually work 35 to 40 hours a week, on a seven-day shift pattern between 8am and 10pm. A similar pattern of work can apply to business travel agents.
The work environment is normally a well-lit, attractive shop or office environment. The work mainly involves sitting at a counter or desk. Travel agents need to have a smart appearance and most employers provide uniforms.
As part of their training, employers may arrange for staff to visit holiday resorts overseas to improve their knowledge. They may also travel occasionally within the UK to attend short training courses and trade events.
The starting salary may be around £10,500 to £11,500 a year. Some travel agents earn commission on sales. Many also receive discounts on their own holidays.
About 50,000 people are employed as travel agents in Great Britain.
Employers in the retail sector include high street chains, small independent agencies and specialist companies. The typical retail branch is relatively small, employing between three and six agents.
Increasing numbers of staff are employed within contact centres, selling holidays direct to customers.
The travel industry has changed considerably over the past few years, as more people use the internet to book holidays or to make their own travel arrangements. Nevertheless, there are still many customers who prefer the personal service offered by travel agencies.
Young people tend to start in retail travel agencies or contact centres, and possibly move into business travel agencies after gaining experience.
Vacancies arise regularly, although competition for jobs is often high. Larger agencies advertise training opportunities for apprentices in their windows and on their websites. Most agencies advertise positions in the local and trade press. Jobs may also be posted on travel industry websites, in Connexions centres and Jobcentre Plus offices.
There are no formal entry requirements, although GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3) in maths and English may be helpful. Personal qualities and enthusiasm can be more important. Experience of working in a retail environment is advantageous.
Many young people enter through Apprenticeships provided by national and local training providers. They work towards NVQ's Levels 2 and 3 in Travel and Tourism, together with other appropriate travel-related qualifications. Some gain qualifications in customer service.
It can be helpful to offer qualifications in travel and tourism, gained through a college course and/or previous employment, but this is not essential. Useful qualifications include:
- AS (Advanced Subsidiary) or A levels in Travel and Tourism
- City & Guilds Travel and Tourism Diploma
- BTEC National Certificate/Diploma in Travel and Tourism
- Scottish Group Awards (SGAs) in Travel and Tourism
Some entrants have higher qualifications, such as a Higher National Certificate/Diploma, Foundation degree, or a degree.
Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.
Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at www.apprenticeships.org.uk.
There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Training is usually on the job and often starts with an induction course. New staff may be sent on further specialist training courses and educational visits.
They may also work towards the Association of British Travel Agents' Certificate (ABTAC) in Travel (Travel Agents) qualification. This exam-based qualification is available at two levels, primary and advanced, and is equivalent to NVQ/SVQ Levels 2 and 3.
Travel agents working in an agency handling international fares and ticketing may work towards qualifications recognised by the International Air Transport Association (IATA). Air fares and ticketing courses are available at IATA Levels 1 and 2.
For business travel agents, the Guild of Travel Management Companies, together with City & Guilds, offers an introductory qualification. This is suitable for people without previous experience in the travel industry, or for retail travel agency staff wanting to move into business travel. The guild also offers more advanced certificates for experienced staff.
Continuing professional development (CPD) in travel agency work can be recognised through the Accredited Travel Professional Scheme, developed by the Association of British Travel Agents, the Institute of Travel & Tourism and People 1st (the Sector Skills Council for travel and tourism).
Laboratory technicians carry out routine laboratory tests and perform a variety of technical support functions to help scientists, technologists and others with their work. They can work in research and development, scientific analysis and testing, education and manufacturing.
They are employed in a wide range of scientific fields which affect almost every aspect of our lives.
A travel agent should:
Progression to a more senior role or assistant branch manager is possible within a relatively short time. Further promotion to branch manager may be possible. It may be necessary to move branches or employers to gain promotion.
Some agents move to tour operating companies, where they may specialise in travel marketing or business support functions, such as human resources or training.
Some experienced travel agents, who prefer more flexible hours, now work from home. They typically work for a parent organisation and contact customers by phone and email, and sometimes personal visits.
After gaining considerable experience in the industry, travel agents may set up their own businesses.
Association of British Travel Agents Limited (ABTA),
68-71 Newman Street, London W1T 3AH
Tel: 020 7637 2444
Guild of Travel Management Companies (GTMC),
Queens House, 180-182 Tottenham Court Road,
London W1T 7PD
Tel: 020 7637 1091
Institute of Travel & Tourism (ITT),
PO Box 217,
Ware SG12 8WY
Tel: 0870 770 7960
People 1st, 2nd Floor, Armstrong House,
38 Market Square, Uxbridge UB8 1LH
Tel: 01895 857000
The Springboard Charity & Springboard UK Ltd, Coopers' Hall,
13 Devonshire Square, London EC2M 4TH
Tel: 020 7497 8654
Additional resources for job seekers and those already in a job.