It is my position that a serious travel professional should be well informed. At first, that statement is one that tends to elicit a “Duh!” response from others, but it’s a fully loaded statement. Sure, it’s important to know what you’re supposed to know. Carnival sells cruises, RIU operates all-inclusive resorts, and flying through Chicago O’Hare in the winter is a gamble. If you concentrate on a specialty, what you’re supposed to know gets a little more specific. River cruise specialists are supposed to know the difference between Uniworld’s river ships compared to Avalon’s, and Ireland specialists are supposed to know small details like the location of that one little pub in Dublin that adds the right cultural flavoring to a visit. But, take a look at the travel community at large. What should we ALL know? As it turns out, more than you think.
The first item on the list should be basic spelling, grammar, and punctuation. I cringe anytime someone writes something that represents them as a professional (for example, an article like this, or website content, or even a forum post) and it is chock full of errors. It is difficult for me to take a fellow professional seriously if they do not have a grasp on basic elementary English principles. A true professional is held to a higher standard by the general public, and especially by his or her peers. Sending out a missive with dangling participles, misspelled words, and poor punctuation sends a blow to that professional’s credibility.
Second item: basic geography. I once worked with a travel agent who was discussing a vacation with a client over the telephone. She put the client on hold, turned to me, and asked, “What ocean is on the California side?” The sad thing is, she was serious. Again, this goes back to basic grade school education. A travel professional should know basic geography: know where major countries in the world are located, know the major bodies of water that separate the continents, and realize that Hawaii really should not have interstate highways. Travel geography is different from “regular” geography, but many educational principles are the same. If someone is relying on you for travel planning, and you confuse Paris, Texas with Paris, France, it can be very difficult to recover from that loss of trust.
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Third, basic travel industry operations. This has changed over the last few years. It used to be commonplace for every travel agent in every travel agency to have access to a GDS system, and use it frequently every day for a variety of needs. These days, that isn’t the case so much. But there are still common practices shared by agencies and vendors alike, and it’s important to know them. What are common cruise line cancellation penalties? How do we get the client’s vacation money into the hands of the supplier? What destination should be promoted, and when?
Fourth, and last (but not least) is basic business principles. Many reading this are independent professionals with their own businesses. When you remove the “travel” from what we do, you’re left with a business. What business licensing laws apply to you? Can you receive clients at your home office if you wanted to? What taxes do you need to pay and when do you need to pay them? How do you protect your business name? Basic business principles are very important in any travel professional’s success, even if they work as an employee of a brick-and-mortar agency.
Luckily, there are many ways to gain this knowledge if you are skimping on any of it. Travel industry knowledge & geography courses are available through The Travel Institute and CLIA. Business, English, and basic geography courses are often offered through a local university or community college. They are also available online through a variety of services. With the multiple avenues to education available, there is no excuse for any of us to NOT know what we are supposed to know. Take the time, and make the investment, to learn what you should know and help the general public realize that travel professionals are indeed professionals, and not just someone selling a few cruises just so they can get a free one for themselves.
Steve Cousino, ACC, CTA, LS is a four-year industry veteran affiliated with Sunnyland Tours & Travel in Springfield, MO. He holds Lifestyle Specialist designations in Luxury Travel and is known for specializing in cruises, Western European tours, group travel, and culinary-themed travel. He can be reached at email@example.com. Visit his website at http://www.JourneysBySteve.com