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.

With larger travel companies closing 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 running the travel outlet and developing strategies to hit or exceed sales targets. You'll typically need to:

  • promote and market the business, sometimes to new or niche markets
  • manage budgets and maintain statistical and financial records
  • sell travel products and tour packages
  • source products and destinations to meet consumer demands for bespoke travel and sustainable tourism
  • deliver and exceed branch performance and productivity
  • take part in familiarisation visits to new destinations, to gather information on issues and amenities of interest to consumers
  • liaise with travel partners, including airlines and hotels, to manage bookings and schedules, often a year in advance
  • deal with customer enquiries and aim to meet their expectations
  • provide sales reports to head office
  • implement alternative and innovative ideas for achieving new business
  • oversee 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.

When managing travel agency staff, you'll typically need to:

  • motivate the sales team to hit and exceed their targets and ensure company profitability
  • meet regularly with team leaders to give them sales figures and plan how they approach their work
  • meet company directors who advise on strategy and find out about any local issues and future trends
  • oversee the recruitment, selection and retention of staff as well as payroll matters and staff training
  • organise incentives, bonus schemes and competitions
  • deal with disciplinary matters and customer complaints.

Salary

  • Starting salaries range from around £19,000 to £26,000, depending on the company's size, location and market.
  • With experience, salaries can rise to around £35,000.
  • Salaries at senior level can exceed £40,000.

Salaries vary greatly between agencies, with larger chains normally paying higher rates. You can enhance your earnings through various incentives and performance bonuses. Concessions for personal holidays and travel are also common.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Working hours typically include a Saturday, which is classed as a normal working day. You'll usually have to cover seven days a week on a five-day day rota system. Part-time work is available.

Branch managers may occasionally work evenings when attending promotions and conferences.

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

What to expect

  • Jobs are available in most areas of the UK, with major travel agencies having a high street presence. Self-employment or freelance work is an option due to the rise in popularity of online bookings and tailor-made package tours.
  • The industry can experience downturns and upturns in equal measure, depending on the economic climate.
  • There is an emphasis on meeting sales and productivity targets.
  • Uniforms and a smart appearance are required in most organisations.
  • There is occasional travel within a working day, plus overseas travel.

Qualifications

Although you don't need a degree, HND or foundation degree to become a travel agency manager, subjects that include travel, business and management modules are useful, particularly if they have 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.

Employers look for relevant managerial and travel-related experience. It's usual to start in a junior role, such as travel agency clerk or travel consultant, before moving into a management role.

Some of the major travel companies provide graduate training programmes in specific areas of the business. Although you may get placed in a retail travel agency during the training period, ultimately you'll be working in a specific business function. This tends to be at head office or other relevant locations, even overseas.

Entry into a retail travel agency without a higher education qualification is possible. You'll usually need GCSEs in maths and English, as well as experience in travel and tourism.

Apprenticeships in travel and tourism are also available, and large travel companies such as TUI Group offer a retail apprenticeship.

Skills

You'll need to have:

  • communication skills
  • sales and customer service skills
  • diplomacy and tact
  • innovation and energy
  • commitment to people management
  • the ability to lead and motivate a team
  • 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.

You must also have an awareness of the current trends in travel, for example sustainable 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 application. The ability to communicate effectively in different languages is also 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, is also helpful.

Employers

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. Check the list of members on the Association of Independent Tour Operators (AITO) website to get an idea of typical employers.

Online travel bookings playing a significant role in the industry and there are opportunities in all aspects of online travel management. Search for members of the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) on their website.

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.

Look for job vacancies at:

You can also check websites of travel agencies, companies and tour operators.

Specialist recruitment agencies, such as New Frontiers, also handle vacancies.

Professional development

Training is mainly on the job, although large companies may provide off-site training, some of which may be residential. Training 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 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 ABTA and the Institute of Travel and Tourism (ITT).

NVQs and SVQs are offered at different levels, and include courses relevant to managers or potential managers. There is also a Managing the Travel Business Diploma, provided by the International Air Transportation Association (IATA).

It's also possible to complete postgraduate study in areas such as leisure and business. Search postgraduate courses in leisure management.

Career prospects

Generally, the role of 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.

Typically, as a new entrant, you'll 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.

You may need to relocate to gain promotion if working for a larger company, or move between companies if you're working for a smaller independent company.

By specialising in a few chosen destinations, opportunities may arise to relocate or spend time working abroad where you could forge links with travel partners overseas. Alternatively, you may move into education tourism.

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.