When Manuel Padilla first signed up for a travel advisor training program geared toward military veterans, he thought things would be easy, considering he spent 10 years in the Air Force followed by a lengthy career in aviation.

The knowledge needed to become a successful travel advisor required a much greater understanding of the world than he realized. However, less than a year after launching his own company, Padilla’s independent travel agency, Kwik Escapes LLC, is finding its groove.

“I have a background in aviation being in the Air Force, so I assumed that I knew a lot of the information that was going to be presented — but I was very wrong,” Padilla said. “There was a lot to learn.”

Program for Vets

Padilla was one of the first veterans to take part in Nexion Travel Group’s Veterans in Travel program, which launched in July 2018 to give veterans an entry into the world of travel entrepreneurship at no cost.

Manuel Padilla

In the first year of the program, which has recently expanded to Canada, 90 veterans have been awarded scholarships to enroll in the training that typically takes five months to complete. The veterans program is based on the curriculum from Nexion’s Travel Leaders of Tomorrow course, which aims to equip future travel agents with the skills to start their own companies.

Participants meet in a virtual campus for lectures, study halls, tests, and business-planning classes. For a final project, they must prepare a presentation on their goals and objectives for their own travel agency business.

The four-module course costs $450 per section, but those fees are waived for veterans, as are all expenses of operating under the Nexion umbrella for the first two years in business. There is also a coaching program offered to each veteran who completes the training for seven months following the course.

“We are giving these folks everything they need to get their businesses off the ground,” said Jackie Friedman, president of Nexion Travel Group. ““Most of these folks have no experience in the industry. They are brand-new, so we needed to make sure we had a really solid training program.”

While designing the scholarship training program, Nexion worked closely with AMVETS, a veterans service organization, to tailor specific aspects of it for veterans. One of the biggest points was the ability to complete the training and later work from home.

“That made this a really attractive opportunity,” Friedman said.

The application process involves veterans contacting Nexion to speak with a recruiter for an initial interview to see what they want to get out of the program. The interview is designed to make sure they know what they are getting into, Friedman said.

“There are so many things about these folks, their experiences, their backgrounds, their attention to detail, their travel backgrounds — all bode well for them to be very successful in this industry,” she said. “We do believe we can help folks build a solid business of their own.”

New Career Challenges

For Padilla, the program nearly fell into his lap while surfing the internet for information about becoming a travel advisor.

A family event forced him to move to Pennsylvania and thus give up his work as a government defense contractor. There were not many employment opportunities in the state that matched his field, Padilla said.

“It was a no-brainer,” he said of the decision to participate in Nexion’s veterans program.

The biggest challenge for him so far has been dealing with people and different situations that pop up during his clients’ trips.

“In general, veterans have a lot to offer when it comes to employment, and one of those key skill sets is the ability to adapt and fix problems,” Padilla said. “If you have a client who is on the road and something unexpected happens, a veteran can manage that situation fairly well. I think the program is very forward-thinking.”

Padilla has found a source of business in the Philadelphia hospitals where his wife works. It all started by helping a friend with vacation planning.

“I’m catering to people who spent 12 hours in a hospital and don’t have time to sit in front of a computer and search,” he said. “The word is getting around … I’m still learning and still growing. I want to stay with it, of course.”

Skills and Passion

Amber Spells, another veteran who completed the program and launched her own business, said a passion for travel and skills she gained while serving in the Pennsylvania National Guard as a fire control repair specialist led her to pursue a career as a travel advisor.

“I believe my military training has made me a courageous and purposeful traveler,” she said. “I feel that any veteran who has a love for travel, enjoys leading, educating, and enhancing the lives of others should consider travel as a career because they already have 90 percent of what is needed to be successful.”

Photo Credit: Careers after the military are a key issue for veterans. The Southwest Airlines team at Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall airport hosted a U.S. Army sergeant for his second reenlistment ceremony. Southwest Airlines