Outdated perceptions about travel agents, or the view that it’s a career path devoid of the same opportunities as hospitality or tourism marketing, are some of the reasons that courses about travel agency operations are sparse at the university level.

To address the issue, two of the world’s top luxury agency consortia are beefing up educational offerings for potential agents to develop a pipeline of quality candidates for recruitment.

Virtuoso and Traveller Made are taking on the challenge and taking on different approaches in trying to find highly-qualified young people.

Traveller Made, based in Sion, Switzerland, announced a partnership with Sommet Education, the parent of Les Roches Global Hospitality Education and Glion Institute of Higher Education, both rated among the top six hospitality schools in the world.

Through the partnership, students will benefit from original course content and learning experiences developed collaboratively by Traveller Made and Sommet faculty. Traveller Made will participate in the development and delivery of the curriculum by providing original research, case studies, and applied business projects for students to carry out as part of their degree programs.

Traveller Made was established five years ago as a network of European luxury travel designers, said Quentin Desurmont, founder and president. Today, it encompasses 370 agencies around the world. Desurmont says the partnership with Sommet was necessary and timely, given the rapid growth of the luxury travel industry and the resulting need to recruit and train new talent.

“It’s important to create a strong relationship with schools, because they supply the most important asset in our industry — talent,” said Desurmont. “Things are changing when I look at hospitality schools. The younger generation is changing. Yes, some are absolutely planning on making a career in hotels. But there are others who have a strong entrepreneurship fiber. They don’t want to go through the classical route of working for the big brands. Many of these younger people feel that if you want a great life, you have to create your own job, your own company.”

The agency world, he said, provides opportunities for students with that mindset.

To introduce students to the field, Traveller Made will also become a recruiting partner of Sommet Education, regularly inviting students and graduates to apply for internships and job opportunities with the company.

“One of our duties is to help students understand the full ecosystem of hospitality and travel,” said Benoît-Etienne Domenget, CEO of Sommet Education. ‘Designing luxury travel experiences is one of those.”

While teaching students about distribution models, including the role of travel agencies, is not new to Sommet, Domenget said, the Traveller Made partnership will “allow us to take it a step further…working directly with entrepreneurs and talented players who have evolved the luxury agency model. This collaboration will ensure that Sommet Education offers students the most relevant curriculum while developing the skills the luxury hospitality industry needs. After all, our mission at the end of the day is to prepare the talent of tomorrow.”

Virtuoso’s Recruitment Pipeline

The Virtuoso Travel Network has been around since 1986, and its network of 1,000 agencies worldwide keeps growing. As it expands, Virtuoso is developing its recruitment pipeline through education, as well, although the strategy differs from that of Traveller Made.

Virtuoso does work with institutions of higher education on an ad hoc basis. David Kolner, senior vice president of global member partnerships, said Virtuoso has its officials speak at hotel schools, and offers opportunities for hospitality students to attend events like the annual Virtuoso Travel Week in Las Vegas. However, the consortium has yet to create a higher education partnership as comprehensive as the one planned by Traveller Made and Sommet Education..

However, Virtuoso has a strong proprietary internal education ecosystem, Kolner said. “Since there aren’t travel agent schools anymore,” he said, “we developed the Virtuoso Certified Travel Advisor Program. VCTA is a six-month program. Students do prerequisites online, then do a one-week, in-person course. The instructors don’t teach about products, but about how to be an advisor — how to market and position yourself as an advisor.”

Virtuoso also opens its doors to new talent through Virtuoso Difference Seminars, which can be accessed through its website.

“We have partnerships with groups like Young Travel Professionals and incubators,” Kolner said. “ It’s about meeting people where they are and bringing the education to them.”

Virtuoso presents that education at seminars during Virtuoso Travel Week and through VTW on Tour, which is held in 26 locations worldwide every year. “When students come to these events, we have seen results in conversions,” Kolner said. “Mentoring is a trend to leverage.”

Traveller Made and the Virtuoso Travel Network are trying to increase awareness about careers in being luxury travel advisors within the broader hospitality world.

As Kolner said, “Our mission statement is to increase compensation and fulfillment … we want it to be a realistic job financially, and of course, it’s honestly a fun, always vibrant industry.”

Photo Credit: The Glion Institute of Higher Education, which is part of Sommet Education in Montreux, Switzerland, has launched a master's program in luxury and guest experience. Sommet Education