Tips from a travel agent
Marta Ceron, an international travel agent for more than twenty-five years, tells how her accent was initially a stumbling block in her career. She has taken every opportunity presented to her to take classes and go to additional training, and she will advise her children to do the same.
What is your job title and what industry do you work in? How many years of experience do you have in that field?
I am an International Travel Consultant with twenty-five years of experience. I work on site for a corporation, and I arrange the travels its employees’ take all over the world.
What is your ethnicity? How has it hurt or helped you?
I am Hispanic and this has mostly helped me over the years because it is very important to be bilingual in my field and in many others. Sometimes my ethnicity is harmful because people tend to not believe a person with an accent, but after you show them that you know what you are doing, you gain credibility and respect.
What languages do you speak?
I speak both English and Spanish.
What did you learn the hard way in this job and how did that happen?
As a travel agent, I did not understand that people would not trust me right away, but I have learned that they want to work with me once they know me. I wasn’t prepared for the initial rejection and the work it would take to build trusting relationships.
How did you get started in this line of work? If you could go back and do it differently, what would you change?
Because I came from Colombia, my experience was doing everything by hand, but here everything was done on computers. Nobody wanted to hire me at first because I had never worked on a computer, but I started to train and showed people that I was a fast learner. People just have to put heart in what they do.
On a good day, when things are going well, can you give an example of something that really makes you feel good?
It makes me feel wonderful when I have tons of call-backs from repeat customers because people want to talk to me only. That is very rewarding and lets me know I am doing a good job.
When nothing seems to go right, what kind of snafus do you handle and what do you dislike the most?
What I dislike the most of being a travel agent is having to deal with clients who have never traveled, yet they think they know it all. I have to keep a positive attitude and remain patient, which is difficult when someone who knows nothing about the industry acts as if I do not know what I am doing.
What advice do you have for other Hispanic professionals?
If you do your best in any given situation, you will be fine. I think people who come to the US from other countries seeking the dream tend to work very hard to achieve their goals, and that is why most of us succeed. I am very happy that I could raise my children and could show them that they have to work their way up, and not to take things for granted. Study as much as you can, and every time you have a chance to take classes at work or get training, take them.
How stressful is your job? Are you able to maintain a comfortable or healthy work-life balance?
It is very stressful because our staff was cut in half because of the recession. Now that travel is picking up and we are very busy, our company has not begun to hire new employees, so we are overworked trying to keep up with all the business coming in.
What’s a rough salary range for the position you hold? Are you paid enough considering your responsibilities?
Most agents in my position make between $40,000 and $50,000 a year. We always think we don’t make enough.
What’s the most rewarding moment you’ve experienced in this position? Of all the things you’ve done at work, what are you most proud of?
I was honored to be named to the Pacesetters group, which is a group of the highest-performing travel agents. As a reward, they took us to Los Angeles, and we went down the red carpet with photographers taking pictures of us like real stars at the Kodak Theater. I will never forget that!
What’s the most challenging moment you’ve experienced? What would you prefer to forget?
My most challenging moment was when I was on a conference call with three people, and none of them could understand me because of my accent. They had to keep asking me to repeat myself multiple times. I would prefer to forget that.
What education and skills do you need to get hired and succeed in this field?
The travel business has changed greatly over the years and is now largely based on technology and automation. In the state I am in now, just about anyone with any education could be a travel agent with some on-site training. It is essential to be detail-oriented and to have strong communication skills. It is also an asset to have a passion for travel and concern for others.
What would you tell a friend considering your line of work?
Many people are booking their own travel now, and I don’t see this field growing much in the future. I would suggest to a friend that they look into other industries and fields. I think the medical field will continue to grow, so I would urge them to pursue a career in a field like that one.
How much vacation do you take? Is it enough?
I have three weeks a year with the option to buy another, and next year I will earn another week. I will have enough vacation time then.
If you could write your own ticket, what would you like to be doing in five years?
I would like to have lots of vacation time, some discounts, and take advantage of them to travel all around the world before I retire because I have worked very hard. My passion is to travel.