Combine your love of travel, management, sales and customer satisfaction by working as a travel agency manager

Travel agency managers work in retail travel outlets, which promote and sell holidays and travel-related products.

Travel agencies range from small independent businesses to large chains. Some specialise in business travel while others have detailed knowledge of specific locations or travel products.

Depending on the size of the organisation and the customer base, your responsibilities will usually include:

  • daily operational management;
  • sales development;
  • staff and financial management.

As a travel agency manager, you must be able to offer specialist, professional and competitive travel products to meet the demands of the travel market, which includes online bookings and tailor-made trips.

As the larger travel companies close more of their high street shops to cut costs and focus on online sales, there are possibilities for independent travel consultants to fill the gap.

Responsibilities

You will be responsible for developing strategies to hit or exceed sales targets, regardless of the size of the outlet or products offered. Depending on the size of the company and the specific managerial role, tasks could include:

  • promoting and marketing the business, sometimes to new or niche markets;
  • managing budgets and maintaining statistical and financial records;
  • selling travel products and tour packages;
  • sourcing products and destinations to meet consumer demands for bespoke travel and sustainable tourism;
  • taking part in familiarisation visits to new destinations to gather information on issues and amenities of interest to consumers;
  • liaising with travel partners, including airlines and hotels, to manage bookings and schedules, often one year in advance;
  • dealing with customer enquiries and aiming to meet their expectations;
  • overseeing the smooth, efficient running of the business.

While online bookings have opened up opportunities for home-based self-employment and can reduce the numbers of staff in retail outlets, the majority of managers still deal with staffing issues as a large part of their role.

Tasks concerning the management of travel agency staff typically involve:

  • constantly motivating the sales team to hit their targets and ensure company profitability;
  • meeting regularly with team leaders to give them sales figures and plan how they approach their work;
  • meeting company directors who advise on strategy and finding out about any local issues and future trends;
  • overseeing the recruitment, selection and retention of staff as well as payroll matters and staff training;
  • organising incentives, bonus schemes and competitions;
  • communicating with sales consultants and providing encouragement, help and advice;
  • dealing with disciplinary matters and customer complaints.

Salary

  • Salaries for managers range between £25,000 and £30,000, depending on the company's size, location and niche market. Graduates will start at the bottom of the scale, unless you have some relevant experience.
  • Salaries for travel consultants range between £12,000 and £25,000.
  • Salaries at senior level or with experience (e.g. after ten to 15 years in the role) can be anywhere between £25,000 to £60,000, depending on the nature and location of the employing organisation.

Salaries vary greatly between agencies, with larger chains normally paying higher rates. Salary can be enhanced by various incentives and performance bonuses. This ranges from sales commission payments, to incentives such as free meals or retail vouchers in recognition of the most products sold (e.g. flights or insurance). Concessions for personal holidays and travel are also common.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Working hours typically include regular unsocial hours and Saturday is classed as a normal working day. Career breaks and part-time work are acceptable.

Branch managers may occasionally work evenings when attending promotions and conferences in the UK or abroad.

If the travel agency is located in a call centre, shift work will usually be required.

What to expect

  • Self-employment or freelance work is opening up with the popularity of online bookings and tailor-made package tours, but this has obvious risks attached to it, particularly in an industry which can experience downturns and upturns in equal measure.
  • Jobs are available in most areas, with major travel agencies having a high-street presence.
  • There is an emphasis on meeting sales and productivity targets, which may be stressful.
  • Uniforms and a smart appearance are required in most organisations.
  • There is occasional travel within a working day, plus overseas travel, sometimes at fairly short notice. Regular absence from home overnight is uncommon.

Qualifications

Generally you do not need a degree, HND or foundation degree to enter the profession. However, subjects covering travel, business and management modules are useful, in particular those which have involved a practical work placement.

The following subjects may increase your chances:

  • business/marketing /financial management;
  • business with languages;
  • human geography;
  • social/economic/business studies;
  • travel/tourism/leisure studies.

HND and foundation degree holders are at no disadvantage when compared to graduates, as employers look for relevant managerial and travel-related experience.

Entry into a retail travel agency without a higher education qualification is common; graduates and those with diplomas are not normally fast-tracked into a branch management role.

Companies with graduate recruitment schemes, such as TUI Group, expect you to follow a specific programme in your preferred area of the business. During this time, you may get placed in a retail travel agency but ultimately will be working in a specific business function. This tends to be at head office or other relevant locations - even overseas.

Skills

You will need to have:

  • excellent communication skills;
  • diplomacy and tact;
  • innovation and energy with a desire to drive others;
  • commitment to people management;
  • sound judgement with attention to detail;
  • competent IT skills;
  • strong organisational skills;
  • resilience to cope with long hours and pressure at peak times;
  • a genuine interest in travel.

As a potential manager, you must be able to demonstrate an awareness of some of the main trends in travel. This incorporates the demand for tailor-made holidays.

There is more industry and consumer awareness of sustainable tourism, including projects which look at the economic and environmental impacts of tourism. Knowledge of popular and upcoming destinations is also important.

Work experience

Vacation or temporary work experience in a sales environment, as well as experience of foreign travel (e.g. as part of a gap year or summer placement), will enhance your applications. The ability to communicate effectively in different languages is also very helpful.

Relevant management experience in other areas of the leisure or tourism industry, such as hotels or airlines, is likely to increase your chances. Specific functional experience, perhaps in a marketing, sales, retail or IT role, may be advantageous.

Employers

Despite ongoing global economic turbulence, demand remains for all types of holidays with online bookings playing a significant role.

Most of the brand-name travel agents are owned by a few large groups, made even larger in recent years by high-profile mergers.

However, there are a number of independent agencies, some small and some with branches throughout the UK, and other specialist agencies. Such travel agents may deal with particular destinations or products, for instance cooking holidays, sports activity breaks or niche locations. For potential employers view the list of members on the Association of Independent Tour Operators (AITO).

There are opportunities in all aspects of online travel management, which are usually available for people with around three to five years' experience. This may mean relocating since operations will be based centrally. To find a list of members (including retail outlets and online companies) in the UK check the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA).

Self-employment is also possible, particularly when providing specialist travel options. The internet has opened up opportunities due to demand from people wanting more tailored holidays at the best prices.

TV travel shops are another area of opportunity with several of the major travel agencies having their own satellite and cable TV channels. Given the right qualities, it is possible to diversify to other parts of the industry, such as airlines and airports.

Look for job vacancies at:

Vacancies are handled by specialist recruitment agencies, such as New Frontiers.

It is common to find vacancies on the websites of travel agencies and tour operators. Well-known travel companies advertise job opportunities from their websites.

Professional development

Your training will be mainly on the job; however large companies may provide off-site training, some of which may be residential.

A number of qualifications relevant to the travel industry, some of which are available through distance learning, are offered by City & Guilds.

There is also a Managing the Travel Business course, which is provided by the International Air Transportation Association (IATA). The course is part of their Travel and Tourism Training Programme.

NVQs and SVQs are offered at different levels, which include courses relevant to managers or potential managers.

Your initial training will depend on the amount of relevant prior experience you have gained in a retail or sales setting. Industry-specific training will occupy the early stages and may include travelling abroad or to other parts of the UK, as well as training in sales areas such as insurance and online booking systems.

Skills such as payroll matters can be learned on the job, as can some management skills, like dealing with staff grievances. Training in these areas may be provided as part of the handover from the departing manager.

Continuing professional development (CPD) via training from their travel industry partners is encouraged by both the:

You can find more information on training at the sector skills council for hospitality, passenger transport, travel and tourism People 1st.

Career prospects

Generally, the role of a travel agency manager offers a lot of scope for variety and progression. In larger companies, this may mean moving up the management ladder to area manager roles or to another specific area of the business such as PR, human resources or marketing.

Many large tourism companies now have their own brands incorporating everything from hotels to airlines, so it's possible to move within these areas as well.

You may find it necessary to relocate to gain promotion, especially when working for larger companies. If you're working for a smaller, independent company it might be necessary to move to another company for promotion.

However, the specialist knowledge gained through working in a niche area can facilitate a move in a new career direction. By specialising in a few chosen destinations, opportunities may arise to relocate or spend time working abroad where links may be forged with travel partners overseas.

Typically, as a new entrant, you would need to gain two to three years' experience as a sales consultant before being able to apply for a team leader position, and a further two to three years' experience before applying for branch management roles.

Retention of staff can be a real difficulty however, and travel consultants tend to move around firms when starting out. This means staff may gain promotion faster, but the learning curve is steep and responsibilities increase quickly.

The larger, well-known companies would expect graduates to want to progress their career into management and can provide the training and motivation to achieve this.

Graduates may also be involved in staff training. This type of opportunity can provide the educational experience and skills necessary to enter areas such as tourism education.

The experience you gain as a travel agency manager opens up opportunities in the wider tourism industry including hotels and leisure facilities, airlines and cruise ships.

As a manager with a degree, a range of postgraduate opportunities are available, including courses in leisure and business subjects.