Travel Agent Job Outlook for 2016: Merry and Bright

by Daniel McCarthy

Next year is shaping up to be a sellers’ market for travel agents, as fewer trained professionals try to keep up with a burgeoning travel industry. On the horizon are more opportunities, more freedom to change jobs—and the power to demand higher salaries. 
 
At Hot Travel Jobs, owner Douglas Walsh said agents should be optimistic heading into 2016, as the stars seem to be aligning in favor of travel professionals.

“The industry is changing,” Walsh said. “The supply of good agents is going down—and somebody is going to be paying much more to get those people in.”  
 
More than 80% of the 477 respondents to a new Hot Travel Jobs survey were veterans of the travel industry for eight years or more. While most have been with their current employer for more than five years (59.6%), the majority are willing to move to switch jobs for more pay or better benefits.  
 
“That blew me away,” Walsh said. “It just shows people are jumping around for better pay and what’s happened, we feel, is the pay is starting to come up the ladder a bit.” 


 
Walsh believes that the changing nature of travel agencies has made it easier—and more appealing—for agents to leave. There’s now have the option of working from home instead of a traditional brick and mortar agency, giving them more freedom to specialize and sell the type of travel they’re passionate about. Even managers at agencies are beginning to take advantage of that freedom.  
 
“We just put up a job offer for vice president of an agency working virtually,” Walsh said. “It’s not often you see a position for a VP that’s virtual.”  

A dream market  
Despite the pessimism about the future of the travel agent over the past few years, the market is still primed for those with the right qualifications to find work.  
 
“There’s a large demand and not a lot of supply,” Walsh said. “We’ve gone from business basically stopping post-9/11 to now it’s starting to boom again.”  

The demand for good travel agents is bound to bring salaries up as well, which Walsh is already seeing in the survey.

Of the percentage of survey respondents who said they were unemployed, most had been out of work for less than one year. Those who were out of work for more than a year just don’t have the qualifications needed, Walsh said. 
 
“If the credentials are there they’ll usually get gobbled up immediately,” he said. “If they have the skills they’ll be able to find work quickly.”   
 
Corporate is king  
For better pay and a more stable opportunity, agents should look toward the corporate sector, Walsh suggested; “you’re definitely getting better compensation on the corporate side than on the leisure side.” 
 
Of the agents surveyed, 70.4% are skilled in using a GDS—a number that aligns perfectly with the percent of agents who are employed (also 70.4%). Walsh believes that, even though GDS skills are extremely useful in any sector of selling travel, it’s the appeal of a working for a corporate agency that is getting the agents to use them.  
 
Though it’s a dream market for all agents, the actual supply of qualified candidates has dwindled, particularly in the corporate sector.  A number of larger corporate agencies—such as American Express Global Business Travel—have had to employ their own training systems just to bring candidates up to date on the technology they’d be using on a daily basis.  
 

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Tip of the Day

I do think there are possibilities for traveler advisors to make money doing domestic trips. I charge a planning fee for my time and expertise, and then book commissionable hotels and activities that meet the client’s needs.

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