Penney Rudicil has gone from being an independent contractor to owning her own agency, The Travel Planner, to educating and training travel agents through Travel Agent Success. We recently talked to Penney about her time in the travel industry and her progression to training and educating other travel agents.
Travel Research Online (TRO): When and how did you enter the travel industry?
Penney Rudicil (PR): I started as a part time independent contractor with a host agency back in 1987. I did that while working a full time job for some time. Around 1995 I started my own agency, The Travel Planner, and eventually hosted independent contractors myself.
TRO: How did this all transition to educating and training agents?
PR: I took what I was doing for my own agents and expanded it to help other agents. I don’t use Travel Agent Success to recruit independent contractors; I want to make sure that other host agencies understand that and are comfortable with that.
TRO: What types of training do you offer? Is it all online or in person?
PR: It’s a combination of both. For example, every Tuesday we do a Tech Tip webinar which is free to anyone who wants to attend. It lasts about 10 to 15 minutes, and focuses on a single technology tip. One Wednesday afternoon a month we do an in-depth business webinar for members only, and it is never supplier focused. We also host monthly study groups for members in several areas around the country. Again those are not supplier focused. We will have some kind of certification or destination training that will be the focus of the study group, so that when members walk away they will have completed something and gotten a certification.
We also help partner people with Accountability Partners. They might spend 5 minutes a day on the phone with their partner, keeping each other on track. We also send out education focused newsletters, offer WOW training (workshops on water), HOW (hands-on workshops), and provide one on one consultations for members with business consultants.
TRO: I think WOW is self explanatory, sounds like a seminar at sea, but what is your HOW training?
PR: It’s land based. For example, twice a year we offer an Extreme Agency Make-Over which is like a boot camp retreat that we host in the Great Smoky Mountains. The one coming up April 17-20 is “What Your Client Doesn’t See Edition.” It will focus on all of the behind-the-scenes pieces of the business, like updating or writing a business plan, legal issues, insurance, accounting, CRMs, and much more. Past EAM boot camps have covered branding, marketing, Google tools, and social media.
TRO: Is it too late for anyone to join the April EAM boot camp?
PR: Our space is almost sold out, but we might be able to squeeze in a couple more travel agents. Registration and pricing information can be found on our website. There is an Advisory Board that reviews all applications first, so that we can ensure that participants want to come to learn; not just looking to spend a weekend in the Great Smoky Mountains.
If someone cannot attend this workshop, a few weeks after the April workshop we will announce the details of the Fall workshop.
TRO: Who has attended your EAM workshops in the past?
PR: A couple of agents in attendance tend to have been in the industry less than 5 years, but a lot of attendees have been in the business anywhere from 10 to 30 years. Veterans need to learn the new technology out there as well.
TRO: With an agency plus TA Success, what is your primary focus these days?
PR: For the past 5 to 6 years I am more focused on managing the agency for my ICs and on the education and training of agents. I keep a small book of clients that I book, but I’m not actively acquiring new clients myself. I keep on top of all of the training and certifications out there so that I can stay on top of things.
TRO: What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first entered the industry back in 1987?
PR: Travel Agent Success, Inc. is actually a result of what I wish was available to me when I first entered the travel industry. Back in 1987 you felt like you were alone. Accessibility to online training has improved greatly over the years, and the many forums and groups that you can belong to really helps as well.
I wish I had known more about FAMs back then, and how informative they could be for agents. Nowadays the FAM invites are going more directly to agents, and not just to agency owners and managers.
I also wish I had known early on that to be treated like a professional, you have to be willing to pay like a professional, especially for certifications and education.
TRO: How has training evolved since you first started?
PR: Tools from suppliers are SO MUCH better than even a decade ago. Now we have choices with online marketing tools, online CRMs, etc. Independent Contractors can belong to a consortium now without being under a host agency. Agents now have more direct contact with supplier BDMs. There are so many more educational opportunities through NACTA, OSSN/CCRA, CLIA, and The Travel Institute, all of which give you opportunities, a voice, networking opportunities, and education that we all need but that wasn’t available in the past.
Susan Schaefer is the owner of Ships ‘N’ Trips Travel located in Tennessee, and specializes in leisure travel with a focus on group travel and charity fundraisers. Through their division Kick Butt Vacations, she focuses on travel for 18 to 23-year-olds. Susan can be reached by email at email@example.com or by phone at (888) 221-1209.