Sunday, June 17, 2007

Musings on Travel Agents

Most people that I hang out with now are unaware that I was certified as a travel agent about 13 years ago. I was about a year out of high school at the time, and I took a couple of terms at the local community college, but wasn't finding it to be quite my thing (I really took to university studies later on, however). I dreamed of a life of seems like a romantic and glamorous life, living out of a suitcase (hoo boy! Did I have a lot to learn!). The only way I could think of to attain that lifestyle was by getting certified as a travel agent.

What I failed to realize, however, is that I would suck at it. Travel and tourism school was loads of fun. I spent the summer taking classes. I had an internship at a local travel agency. It seemed I would really enjoy it. That was until I actually got a job as a travel agent. I had to commute about an hour each way to work (I lived in Columbus, Ohio, yet commuted to Springfield, Ohio, of all's not like there weren't travel agencies in Columbus). I got paid $5.25 per hour. Because I was entry level, they gave me only the easiest bookings to do. Anything in a foreign country had to be given to another agent...even air bookings to Canada. Basically, they never gave me much of a chance to learn and grow, and I got frustrated and made the decision to go back to college.

So I spent over $1000 for what seemed to be a completely worthless certificate. My next job was as Assistant Manager of one of the local branches at Budget Rent a Car. The Asst. Manager position came out of my certification...otherwise, that would've been entry level too. The pay was also better and the commute from my house was less than 10 minutes. Eventually, I went part-time (and as a result, lost my Asst. Manager position and went to work at the main airport location) and went to college full-time.

So let's review what a travel agent certificate did for me - pretty much nothing. I worked as a travel agent for about 3 months, and I was hired on as Asst. Manager at a rental car company, only to be demoted later on (but at least with the same pay).

It's funny though, because I chose that career about 12 years too soon. Now that I live in Europe and I have actually traveled (I had no travel experience, nor had I ever even flown, when I became a travel agent), and I'm also a working travel writer, I have gained a lot of experience and knowledge on the subject of travel. When people come to visit us, I am in charge of making their travel arrangements. If we go anywhere for more than a day, I book the hotel. I make reservations for shows...I do most of the itinerary planning. This is where my previous travel agent experience can actually be put to good use. Whenever my husband and I travel, I take care of all the arrangements (the one exception to this is our upcoming Baltic cruise, which he planned and organized). On the base, I am now considered a travel expert. People come to me a lot with questions: which guidebooks are the best, where should I go, where should I stay, where should I eat, etc.? 2007, I would be an absolutely AMAZING travel agent. How could I ever have foreseen this when I was stupid and 19?

The only thing I am missing at the moment is current certification on one of the travel reservations systems. My certificate that I earned back in 1994 is totally worthless now.

Just for kicks, I looked up my old travel school. Although I could not find it at the location where I attended courses, I found it online (although whether it's the same company or a different one by the same name, I don't know). They offer different certifications:

- travel agent certification
- airline agent certification
- rental car agent certification
- hotel agent certification
- cruise line certification

Travel agent, airline, and rental car certification all require learning the same computer system ( of the main reservations programs for travel agents), but the airline and rental car certifications cost about half as much. Also, as someone who has worked at a rental car company, I can tell you that unless things have changed since I worked at Budget, you do not need a certificate to work there. I worked at a hotel too (not for long - the day a guest died in one of our rooms and I had to go and confirm that he was dead - that was the day I decided to quit) certificate needed to work there either. So have things really changed so that these jobs have become more specialized, or is this company trying to rip people off?

I just find it kind of sad, yet also interesting, that I would probably really enjoy working as a travel agent now...knowing what I know. The knowledge and experience that I've gained makes all the difference. Yet, life seems to be taking me down a different path, literature being my other great life passion. I'm planning to get a Masters in Library and Information Science. Being a travel agent, at this point in my life, would've been a great fall-back career. Too bad my certification is so outdated.

No comments: