Agents teaching agents

aking money by teaching others the trade is what Dianne Tuttle, president of Academy Travel Consultants of San Luis Obispo, Calif., has done well for more than a decade.

Her company now specializes in helping agency owners open their own after-hours travel schools in less than three months' time to cash in on the potential benefits that can come from a small investment.

Tuttle started her school and retail location, Academy Travel Agency, in 1989, but last year decided to begin teaching other agents how to start their own schools.

Tuttle recommends teaching students world geography, computer skills and how to operate a reservations system. After showing them how to market their schools, she details the curriculum that worked for her. First, she advocates that they teach would-be agents geography, telephone etiquette, ticket-writing, passenger-name-record building and other computer skills.

The three-month-long, twice-a-week course provides all the skills beginning agents need to break into the travel business and become independent contractors or salaried employees, she said.

In turn, Tuttle said, the agents-cum-teachers benefit from her turnkey program because they gain reputations as travel experts; expand their businesses; develop outside sales forces that play by set rules; gain new employees from the ranks of their own travel schools, and enjoy greatly improved cash flows by selling a product that allows retention of 90% of the returns as opposed to only 10%.

According to Tuttle, an agency owner can nearly double the initial $6,000 investment in the first few months. She said, for example, if agency owners charge $1,295 per student and conduct two sessions with a total of eight students, they will bring in $10,360 in three months.

"I think it is an opportunity for people interested in this part of the travel field," said Tuttle. "There is such a need for good, well-trained travel agents. I believe [getting] sound, solid training is the only way to succeed in this industry."

The program prescribes that the school and its training be held in real-life offices where agents-to-be can watch experienced agents doing their jobs and talking to clients. "What better way to train?" she asked.

Tuttle's $6,000 program fee paid by the agency owner excludes books, which run about $100, and the CRS CD-ROM, which costs between $80 and $115, depending on the CRS.

Two years' follow-up support for the new enterprise requires an additional annual charge of $500.

For more information, call (805) 781-2630 or visit Tuttle's Web site at www.thegrid.net/travelschools.

-- Michele SanFilippo

Step by step

gency owners who may be interested in starting their own travel schools might be wondering how long it all takes and what they receive for their money if they pay for start-up services. Dianne Tuttle, who has a few agencies in California under contract, described her three-month process of getting an owner's new program up and running.

Steps involved in the process include a sales call to the agency; a visit to discuss why the agency wants to start its own school; a walk-through on what Tuttle has accomplished at her school; signing the contract; picking up paperwork and sending it to the government; teacher/student role playing; teaching the instructors what they need to know for class, and providing a binder complete with all the information she has gathered.

Tuttle gives more information about her program on her Web site, at www.thegrid.net/travelschools."Because my curriculum passes the regulations for the state of California, which has some of the strictest laws around," said Tuttle, "I can help agency owners set up schools that will be state-licensed virtually anywhere."

She said she gives agents insights on how to market and advertise their educational programs and also helps agencies get licenses for those who will be teaching.

A list of resources she provides to agency owners includes helpful Web sites, such as that of the Bureau for Private Post-Secondary & Vocational Education at www.dca.ca.gov/bppve and the California Cooperative Occupational Information System's private council at www.soicc.ca.gov/sti, plus a free listing for the school in "The College Blue Book: Occupational Education."

As for who make the best candidates, Tuttle said, "The best agencies are small, with only a few computer terminals, because they don't have high overhead costs involved in running the program." She added that they need to have three years in business to facilitate getting their state's credentials. But how the agencies choose to educate after completing Tuttle's program will depend entirely on their styles and tastes. They can opt to have all in-class sessions or to instruct students from home on CD-ROMs.

She said that agents can teach students their own office procedures and important areas of concentration, if they like, because many will end up working for the agency in the end. "Different agencies can specialize as long as the basic skills are being taught," said Tuttle.

She added that students want to walk away with computer skills, so they must be taught the CRS and how to search and book travel on line.

"But the sky's the limit once you are up and running in terms of what other courses and specialties you want to teach them," added Tuttle.

Keys to upselling

hink about the last time you bought a car. Were you ready to counter any attempt to persuade you to buy optional features -- the vibrating seats, the titanium hubcaps, the neon pinstripes -- things you really didn't want?

At the same time, you probably wanted more than just a base model.

Most shoppers do, including those looking for a travel experience. Yet, like car buyers, they still resist the upsell. This presents you with a challenge but also opportunities.

Marc Mancini.The first thing to remember: There's nothing unethical about upselling.

If done right, upselling is simply offering a better level of product quality or service to your clients. In other words, selling up means selling more value.

Each of your customers will attach a different perception of value to the extras and upgrades you recommend.

A repeat cruiser may perceive an outside stateroom with a veranda to be well worth the extra cost. A first-time cruiser, though, might fail to understand why it's worth the money.

It's your job to understand what your clients' value perceptions may be.

Start by asking what they desire in their travel experience -- what they value.

If possible, refrain from talking about price up front. Instead, ask: "If you could plan the ideal vacation, what would it be?"

Based on the response, ask about their budget.

Your clients might be surprised to find that their ideal vacation fits within their budget.

If, however, their stated budget falls short of the product they desire, you're positioned to upsell. How? By suggesting ways for them to obtain the benefits they desire.

You'll be upselling from their stated budget, but in reality, you're simply selling them what they already told you they want.

Numerous studies show that consumers are happiest with the most expensive choice they can afford. The easiest way to get them there is to let them lead the way.

Marc Mancini is a professor of travel at West Los Angeles College.

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