If you were to type the question: “Do I need to be certified to be a Travel Agent?” into your internet browser, without a doubt you will be met with a wide array of articles and ads all focusing on how to go about earning all the needed requirements and which source would be the best to earn these accreditations and certifications.
It can be a confusing and daunting process to navigate through the process of becoming a Travel Agent.
There are lots of different paths to pick and not a lot of clear cut resources that map out the way. Even more so if you want to go the more non-traditional way of not joining an agency.
So consider this your cheat sheet for getting started, what to look into and consider if you have arrived at the question: “I don’t want to become certified – Now what are my options?”
Know your State
Each state has their own set of standards and requirements for officially selling travel so before we go any further, we want to stress that depending on your state of residence or where you would be looking to operate your business from, could make the process of becoming a travel agent more convenient than others.
So take the little extra time to research what your state’s requirements are to make sure that you are compliant with their rules and start your process to being a travel agent on the right foot.
According to a Travel Professional News article, There is NOT currently a license needed to sell travel in the United States. However, there are a few states that do have what are commonly referred to as Seller of Travel Programs, Laws, Regulations, Registrations or whatever term a particular state should decide to call this process.
In addition, some states require travel agents to register with the state. This process usually involves filling out a form, paying a fee, and receiving a registration number that agents must display at their place of business.
According to Travel Law, at this time there are thirteen states that have specific laws if you wish to be a seller of travel. Those states are: California, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Washington state.
Currently 5 states which require registration as a seller of travel regardless of where the agency is located: California, Florida, Hawaii, Iowa, and Washington.
So again, just to make sure that you are headed in the right direction, take a look into your state’s rules and regulation to make sure that you are following them accordingly!
Let’s get Licensed!
As we mentioned earlier, licenseship might be a requirement that you may have to consider in the process of becoming a Travel Agent depending on your state.
At this time in the US, there are 5 states that have Seller of Travel Laws, i.e. require a travel agent license.
Those include; California, Florida, Hawaii, Iowa, and Washington – These are also known as The Big Five SOT States®.
But be careful, because although it is only these 5 states that have these Seller of Travel Laws they are not constrained to just their state lines.
As a Travel Agent, if you are looking to book travel for someone that lives in one of these states, then you will be expected to comply with their travel requirements.
Another factor that you may need to be aware of is Local Licensing. Local Licensing pertains to any regulations that a city may have on selling travel.
On the more local level, there can be more complexity and details involved so on this side you will want to make sure that you have done your research.
Quoting this helpful tip from the Host Agency Review article, “You’ll want to familiarize yourself with local laws that affect travel agencies. While you’re digging around, ask your local Chamber of Commerce if there are any general business regulations in your city that you should be aware of ”.
Certification – Do You Have To Do It?
There is an abundance of certifications and accreditations that are offered in the Travel Agency World.
These can be based on your experience level, your niche, the type of travel that you would all want to sell, etc.
Some are more emphasized and recognized then others but are they actually required?
To list out every single certification that exists would take a book rather than an article so we will just include the options that are more predominantly used here and whether or not you are required to have them in order to conduct as an agent and sell travel.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) is responsible for regulating the aviation travel industry across the globe and is one of the more commonly used resources for travel agents due to the fact that airline bookings can be done through the IATA portal.
Though a basic tool for many agents, it is still not a requirement or the only option for agents to sell flights. According to the Travel Technology & Solutions article; How Non-IATA Travel Agents Operate, it is also possible to buy and sell tickets without getting affiliated with IATA. All travel agents who do so are known as non-IATA/independent travel agents. These agents either purchase tickets from other IATA travel agencies or from the airline.
Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), is the world’s largest cruise industry trade association and leading authority of the global cruise community.
Although holding professional designations can be important for consumer consideration when selecting a qualified professional they are not a requirement in order to sell cruises to clients.
It of course is important to be knowledgeable on the information and product that you would be presenting and selling to your Travelers so if you are not interested in becoming certified you still should look into other options of educating yourself.
In the book Start Your Own Travel Business: Cruises, Adventure Travel, Tours, Senior Travel, “another option is to take the courses that are offered directly by the cruise lines. Every cruise line has their own university and if you go through the training you may be able to build a direct link to the cruise line as a supplier”.
Travel Retailer Universal Enumeration or better known as TRUE, is another trusted and true organization in the Travel Industry.
Although TRUE’s agents are able to sell cruises and tours they are mainly recognized for their role in niche travel. According to the Host Agency Review article, Travel Agency Accreditation options, TRUE is open to working with smaller boutique tour operators that may not be on other accreditation’s’ supplier lists. This accreditation is accepted within and outside of the USA.
TRUE offers their accreditation called the TRUE Code. This accreditation is designed for independent travel agents who want a means to receive payments directly from suppliers and a way to be recognized in “the system” as sellers of travel as described in the article, The TRUE Code for Travel Agents: How It Works .
Although the TRUE Code is a resource relied upon by many agents and recognized as a helpful tool especially in regards for niche, boutique and international travel as well as for the booking process of independent agents, it is not a requirement to have at this time.
Similar to IATA, ARC gives U.S. travel agencies the ability to easily ticket flights worldwide as well as provide access to financial solutions, revenue opportunities and industry expertise to help agencies better manage their relationships with these global air travel suppliers.
Similarly to IATA, ARC is a respected cooperation throughout the travel industry and is used by many different agencies and agents.
However according to a Travel Institute’ article, though an ARC number was a necessity for travel agencies at one point. This is not the case today.
ARC numbers are not needed for every type of travel agency. If you’re a home-based travel agent or a storefront agency that only books leisure travel (no air), having your own ARC number probably is overkill.
We again recognize that these are just a sampling of the vast variety of certifications that can be chosen from.
Upon being earned, each of these certifications bring their own benefits to the agent that holds them, and it could be worth considering the different options to see if it would assist you and your business but they are nonetheless not required to sell travel.
Other Options to Consider
Certain Companies have developed their own training programs in which they are able to provide many of the needed requirements and training for their employees to sell travel to their clients without
An example of this would be the BCD Travel Training Consultant Program.
This 10-Week training program provides an immersive training process, where education on the world of corporate travel management, airlines, hotel industries and more is offered to.
Although helpful, it is not required for individuals looking to apply to the Training Program, to have previous experience as a Travel Agent, be required to have a degree relating to Travel Management or Hospitality, or have any certifications or accreditations.
It offers a unique opportunity for those looking to enter into the Travel industry the training and experience without the need to earn credentials and get started on your own.
Do Your Homework
At the beginning of this article, we mentioned that there are many different paths to becoming a Travel Agent – it is not a clear paved road.
There are lots of factors and options that should be considered when making the decision of what type of Travel Agent you would like to be, in what environment you would want to work, and qualifications that you need to start and eventually advance.
In this article we also gave several suggestions of what to consider and where to get started if you were trying to avoid the more traditional and certified heavy route of becoming a Travel Agent.
Although the answer to the question “Do I have to be certified to become a Travel Agent?” Is technically a “No” in a general sense, this does not mean that it is the more convenient option.
This is where we strongly encourage you to do your own bit of research.
Check out your state and even local laws on selling travel. Do those laws point your towards certifications or is there nothing on the books at all?
Consider what you potentially would like to specialize in – Would that niche benefit from a certain certification or accreditations or does it allow for a more creative and laissez faire approach?
Ask questions, connect and network with experienced agents, join or watch free webinars (insert Travefy Academy), look into different available resources that way you are becoming as knowledgeable as possible on your end.
This will allow for you to be informed in how you will invest your time and effort and to choose the best path for you as a travel agent.