With an influx of newcomers seeking careers as travel advisors, host agencies and consortiums are responding with new professional development options. Much of it emphasizes business skills, giving a reality check to those who view a travel career as an easy endeavor with lots of perks.
With the job of travel advisor suddenly a hot career choice, the industry is stepping up efforts to train an unprecedented wave of entrants to the field.
In particular, a bigger role is being played by host agencies, which are seeing their membership base expand with an influx of people opening their own home-based travel agencies and needing support. As a result, host agencies are beefing up their offerings for professional development, including introducing new programs, according to long-time travel agency management consultant Robert Joselyn.
“There are many more newcomers to the industry these days, and so more training is needed for them,” he said. “The host agencies and consortiums have really picked up on this and are focusing on giving a new generation of travel advisors what they need. The big host agencies like Avoya Travel and Protravel have the size and scale to do a lot.”
At Host Agency Reviews, a resource center for travel advisors seeking to start an agency or find a host agency, founder Stephanie Lee also noted the expanding role that host agencies are playing.
“The number of entrants coming into the industry via the host agency channel has exploded in the last decade,” she said. “As host agencies have grown, their support and infrastructure has allowed for — and required — more robust professional development programs. Hosts play a pivotal role as incubators for new agencies.”
Lee also noted that professional development from hosts has diversified, evolving from a focus on product and destinations to include marketing, sales, and other business skills. Many are now offering mentoring services as well, she said.
A Host of Options
Protravel earlier this year launched The Journeys, a training and professional development program divided into three six-month tracks featuring business coaching, mentoring, lead generation, client cultivation, and supplier training through webinars and live events.
Available to all experience levels, the program was particularly developed to serve the increasing number of newcomers joining the industry, some of whom have little comprehension of what it means to be a travel advisor, said Becky Powell, president of Protravel.
“There are a lot of new travel advisors coming on board these days and they need education — people are no longer going through travel schools,” she said. “All too often people view travel as a hobby, something they can do for free trips.”
Avoya Travel restructured and expanded its Avoya Mastermind Academy last year to offer multilevel professional development customized for various experience levels. The restructuring came partly in response to a growing number of new-to-travel professionals joining the network, which currently includes over 1,250 independent home-based agencies, said Tammie Richie, associate vice president.
Like Powell, she noted that newcomers often harbor unrealistic ideas of what a travel advisor career entails.
“One thing we have to do is address the expectations — many people come in thinking ‘travel sounds fun, I like to travel, I’m good at helping my friends and family, I can do this,’” Richie said. “Then reality sets in. Our first priority is to explain what it means to have a business and to be a travel professional.”
Because so many new travel advisors are starting out as independent sole proprietors without the support that traditional brick-and-mortar agencies provided, host agencies need to fill in the gaps with a broader range of professional development, Richie said.
“In the old days, education was primarily about learning the hardware and the products, but all that has changed,” she said. “While brick-and-mortar agencies would handle things like advertising, independents have to know all aspects of the business. You’re in retail sales, and if you don’t know how to sell yourself, people will hang up and call someone else.”
Along with business skills, travel advisors working in the home-based sphere also need a sense of community, Richie added.
“As a result, our professional development is designed to foster peer-to-peer networking and support, to give people a little of that water-cooler feel that you get with colleagues in an office,” she said.
Travel Training 2.0
Travel agency consortiums and The Travel Institute have also been rolling out new programs and reformatting and updating their existing offerings to serve the wave of new travel advisors.
At Virtuoso, a luxury-focused consortium, the number of travel advisors has more than tripled to 20,000 during the past decade, according to Helen Nodland, director of training and professional development.
“Virtuoso is witnessing an influx of newcomers to the industry, everyone from millennials starting in the workforce to people on their second or third careers,” she said. “We’re seeing everyone from engineers to attorneys to teachers make the switch to travel advising.”
With the objective of reaching younger advisors, Virtuoso launched a series of 15-minute podcasts in July addressing best practices for solving common travel advisor issues. The consortium also recently introduced a series of quick training programs on Virtuoso programs and tools that last from two to 15 minutes.
“We know that advisors are really strapped for time, and that different people learn in different ways, so we’ve developed a variety to reach Virtuoso advisors more effectively,” Nodland said.
Training on business skills, including sales techniques, customer service, and developing a client base, have also become a priority, she added.
“As an increasing number of independent contractors enter the industry, helping them develop a portfolio of the right kind of clients (who) recognize the value of their service is critical,” Nodland said.
Another consortium that is addressing the needs of new travel advisors, particularly millennials, is Signature Travel Network , which recently introduced a program called Embark. The training program is designed to help newcomers jump-start their earnings within their first year in business.
The greater emphasis on education at the consortium level is also seen with the recent announcement by the Ensemble Travel Group that it will underwrite 50 percent of the cost for travel advisor members to complete certification programs offered by The Travel Institute.
Record Growth at Travel Institute
The Travel Institute, an independent nonprofit organization that has provided certification and other training for travel advisors since 1964, is also responding to unprecedented demand from newcomers seeking training, said Diane Petrus, the institute’s president.
“We have been attracting new agents in record numbers with 2,063 new travel agents educated by The Travel Institute in 2017 alone,” she said, adding that the majority of new entrants are “coming from another career and looking for a change.”
What seems to be motivating this migration to travel? Citing findings from a 2018 Travel Institute survey, Petrus said the main factors include “the opportunity to travel, flexible hours and/or part-time, ability to work from home and/or for themselves, and the financial opportunities that are scalable based on expertise and effort.”
The Travel Institute, which offers a wide variety of training in business skills and destinations, recently launched a new learning platform adaptable to a variety of tech devices, including mobile phones and tablets as well as computers. At the same time, the Institute introduced an enhanced Certified Travel Associate course for frontline travel advisors with a new interactive user interface and refreshed graphics.
“With the increase of entrepreneurs entering the travel industry, we see the need for business management skills,” said Guida Botelho, The Travel Institute’s director of education. “More specifically, we have seen an increased need for frontline advisor training related to sales, marketing, customer service, business writing, ethics, time management, fraud, and general travel planning.”
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Photo credit: The opening of the new Thomson store at Bluewater Shopping Centre, Kent, England in 2013. New entrants to the travel agent field have an abundance of training options. Matt Writtle