Host agencies are trying to come up with programs to combat some key challenges: recruitment of younger travel advisors to replace those who are retiring and to ensure that the next generation receives adequate training.

Bill Coyle, director of education and programs at host agency KHM Travel, said it seems like a lot of people are looking to make a career change, especially if it involves traveling.

“It’s just unbelievable,” Coyle said, estimating that between 100 and 120 people sign up monthly, although only about 10 percent of those who sign up end up following through with training programs and starting their own business as an independent contractor with KHM, Coyle said.

People making a career change into travel are coming from the fields of medicine, education, government, finance, and sales, according to representatives from agency groups who spoke with Skift. Others are nearing retirement and are seeking a side business that they can keep going after they leave their jobs.

“We also get people who are just done with their career. They don’t like it. They don’t like the profession they are in and they want to switch,” said Kelly Bergin, president of Oasis Travel Network. “I’ve also had people who have already started six businesses and they want to try this.”

Intensive Training

Host agencies such as KHM, Oasis Travel Network and Nexion Travel Group have spent the last few years beefing up recruitment efforts while at the same time focusing on creating intensive training programs to ensure that those new to the industry enter with enough knowledge to ensure success. Without that early success, the future of the industry could be at risk.

“The whole point of creating [our training program] is that we found that prior to 2013 there were a lot of people getting into the industry who were not trained properly,” said Wendy Graziano, a sales manager with Nexion, who has been with the agency 15 years. “That was the biggest scare.”

Another concern is that many of the most professional travel advisors are retiring, she added. “Where do we go? How do we find new travel agents and how do we train them professionally?”

Creating intensive training programs for new advisors has become an enormous part of the industry as more and more applicants are making the leap with little to no experience in travel, experts said.

Just three years ago, Oasis Travel Network had a rule that it would only sign up experienced agents for its host program, Bergin said.

“When we looked at the statistics and figured out that 50 percent of the people contacting us had never been in the industry but wanted to get into the industry, we said to ourselves ‘Hey, we are missing an opportunity here. Let’s do this right,’” Bergin said.

Boot Camps

Oasis decided that all new agents who want to come on board must participate in its introductory training program, which consists of an online course that can take from four weeks to eight months to complete, depending on the participant.

Once the online segment is complete, new trainees must participate in an in-person boot camp to learn the company’s systems and meet with suppliers. The cost of the boot camp is $3,500, but participants can go on a payment plan.

“We have to give them all the tools, and quite frankly, I don’t want to give them an option of [launching a career without them],” Bergin said.

Approximately 120 people have graduated from Oasis’ program, according to the company. Of those 120, 90 percent are still with the host agency.

KHM Travel offers a less-expensive boot camp broken up into multiple levels that are offered to agents several times per year. The boot camps are not mandatory, and less than 10 percent of new agents actually sign up for the $299, four-day sessions, Coyle said. About 200 people per year participate.

“If anyone is looking to go into the business, they should look for a good solid host,” Coyle said, noting that there are others out there hosting agents as independent contractors and providing little or no training.

Nexion also offers a training program and to date has trained about 1,200 new agents between its more intensive Travel Leaders of Tomorrow and its “lite” version.

Travel Leaders of Tomorrow is a four-and-a-half-month-long program that is structured similarly to a college-level course, according to Graziano, and includes weekly webinars. There’s a proctored exam at the end of the course where trainees present a short- and long-term business development plan

Nexion’s focus on recruitment has been through free webinars that the company offers three or four times per month. Usually, about 100 people attend each webinar, Graziano said.

That recruitment effort has resulted in a “huge” increase in new agents, with more than 800 joining the company last year.

“We just hired a brand-new salesperson in the sales department because of the influx,” Graziano said. “We are swamped.”

Photo Credit: Bill Coyle discusses business with a travel advisor at KHM Travel’s Crystal Conference on board the Ruby Princess. KHM Travel