In the 60’s it was “signs, signs, everywhere there’s signs.” Today in travel, we have the internet, and it is all about online forums and communities. For instance, Travel Research Online has the Community. These internet forums are quite valuable, especially to the home-based professional who typically operates without the benefit of a co-worker in the same office. They provide a connection to colleagues all across the country, with different specializations and levels of experience. Story after story can be told of an agent asking a question on a message board and receiving immeasurable help, from advice for handling difficult situations to destination recommendations. But, there is a problem!
I’ve noticed a disturbing trend at several of the online forums in which I participate: namely, the asking of very basic industry questions. Some examples include “What is a TC?” (when discussing group cruises), “How do I block group space?”, “Does my client need a visa?”, and many, many more. When I see these types of questions, in my mind, I immediately question the questioner.
From the client’s perspective, it’s expected that the travel professional have some basic level of education in the how-tos and what-nots of the travel industry. The client expects the professional to know MORE than he does, or at least know where to find that information. Otherwise, what good is that professional?
No one expects someone with a desire to go into business for themselves to just set up shop without first researching the industry, learning very basic ropes on business operations, and getting a grip on what they need to know before they open the doors, yet this happens all the time for travel sellers. The importance of a good basic education in the travel industry cannot be overstated. Message boards are good for networking, getting detailed, first-hand accounts of a property, or getting a handle on the latest natural disaster to affect our clients; they are NOT a suitable substitute for making an investment in your education.
A formal education program at a community college or university may not be available to you, but if so take advantage of it. The Travel Institute has several courses that cover a wide range of travel niches and destinations. In fact, The Travel Institute’s Travel Agent Proficiency (TAP) course and exam provides an excellent base level for the travel industry as a whole, covering all aspects from selling air to cruises. The Certified Travel Associate (CTA) program is mid-level, with more detail given to all areas of travel, and the Certified Travel Counselor (CTC) program is widely regarded as a hallmark of knowledge and professionalism. Cruise specialists can highly benefit from the training provided by CLIA through their Associate Cruise Counsellor (ACC) and Master Cruise Counsellor (MCC) programs.
If you aren’t the type for a structured learning environment, Kelly Monagan’s Home Based Travel Agent Success Manual and Tom and Joanie Ogg’s various books provide a wealth of information that is essential for the serious professional. Also, consider books by Mike Marchev and the CD’s put out by Nolan Burris. Both cover aspects of the travel industry not typically found elsewhere. Travel Research Online, The Travel Institute, and other organizations in the industry sponsor webinars on a variety of topics as well.
Finding an experienced mentor in your area that you can meet with regularly on the phone or in person has also proven invaluable for many agents, especially if the mentor is willing to help you learn the basics rather than expecting you to have a basic level of understanding.
Yes, education like this costs money. There is no money more wisely spent, however, than on one’s education. After all, it is your business and your livelihood.
Steve Cousino, ACC, CTA, LS is a seven-year industry veteran and owner of Journeys By Steve and Exclusive Events At Sea. With Journeys By Steve, he offers up independent cruise vacations, escorted tours of Europe and the Holy Land, and culinary-themed travel His newest venture, Exclusive Events At Sea, focuses on producing special event groups at sea. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.