Only a few years ago, a new travel agent would typically work in an office filled with more experienced agents. If a newbie agent had a question, the answer was only a few feet away. New agents spent long hours on tasks that seemed like busy work – filing brochures, assembling tickets and shuffling paper, but those tasks also carried with them an inherent instruction in the mechanics and the structure of the industry. Many new agents had attended a community college course or even a travel agent school in their community and on the job training filled in the gaps with experiential learning surrounded by a web of support.
Today’s new entrants into the industry are not so fortunate. There are far fewer travel schools and local courses. Store-front agents are doing more with less and individual agents find it difficult to complete their own work, let alone generously give to the new face in the office. Home based agents are basically on their own, trying to learn to swim in an increasingly competitive and complex environment. There is no agent at the next desk to which to turn and formal training opportunities are scattered between media, suppliers and the Travel Institute, hardly providing a logical and coherent curriculum.
Formal mentoring programs in many industries provide new entrants coaching in the disciplines of business. As knowledge is passed from the more experienced to those still green in the ways of the craft, the supportive learning environment provides a strong degree of shared heritage and an essential body of knowledge is preserved in the ranks of the profession. The new agent and mentor alike mutually benefit from the cooperative effort and challenge each other by encouraging new ways of thinking and by providing opportunities to safely extend one’s skill set in new directions.
Those who have had the great good fortune of having a mentor in the past know that the process provides developmental avenues at a greatly accelerated pace than would otherwise be available through trial and error. The role model in a mentoring relationship provides an archetype for the behaviors, attitudes and values that lead to success in the industry. The protégé, on the other hand, can more easily identify and set goals and reach them faster by leveraging the experience and insight of the more experienced mentor. The apprentice can make better, more informed decisions with benefit of the mentor’s guidance and gains a confidence and a clarity in the profession that, while still taking years to acquire, is more safely ensconced in a supportive environment.
The professional image of the industry and the well-being of its public perception would be greatly enhanced by a formal mentoring program. There is an opportunity here for some bright entrepreneur to bring together the curriculum, the student and the post-curriculum mentor. I am of the opinion that new travel agents would pay for a well developed, recognized and structured formal mentoring opportunity and that more experienced agents would find a new way to not only supplement their incomes but to enter into a rewarding and enriching relationship with the energy that accompanies a fresh entrant into the travel arena. What is needed is an organizational broker to develop the curriculum and structure the mentoring relationship. The benefits would extend far beyond the primary participants as the entire industry, associations, suppliers and, importantly, consumers reaped the benefits of a better tutored agent population.
Here is another place for the industry leadership to step up to the plate and ensure the long-term viability of the profession of travel planning. If your association or organization has a formal mentoring program, leave a comment and we will run an article on your efforts.