"How many of you have people in your agency who shouldn't be there
-- and how many of you feel like you're held hostage by those
Roughly one-third of the audience at the seminar on Agent
Growth, held at the recent ASTA Eastern Regional Conference in
Bermuda, raised their hands to answer this query in the
"We're not in business to provide employment but to make
profits," presenter Dick Landis then reminded the audience of
industry consultant and former owner of Travel Agency Management
Services (TAMS) the Wayzata, Minn.-based agency networking group,
also presented a TAMS plan for managing and training agents.
"The industry has had an ill-defined hierarchical structure," he
said in this document, called Agent Growth.
"Almost every agency has an owner, a manager and the rest. Most
[agencies] are of insufficient size to justify the existence of a
formal hierarchy, and in fact ... [have] no formal delegation of
Addressing this lack, Landis suggested developing a system of
four levels of agent advancement: new hire, agent trainee,
associate and senior agent.
"Agency owners should make the hiring process an ongoing one" so
there's always an opportunity "to upgrade their staffs.
Historically, agencies have hired as an emergency measure and the
quality of the process has been less than productive, at best,"
New hires undergo a 30- to 60-day indoctrination period during
which they're required to "become fully familiar with all office
equipment and procedures"; help out in the accounting department to
learn about the problems that occur there; complete a course in
telephone skills and spend a couple of days acting as a
receptionist; begin courses in basic, non-CRS computer skills, and
"provide evidence that they can write a normal business
According to Landis, "agency owners should be vigilant at this
phase to weed out those who do not show evidence that they are
willing and anxious to get through this phase quickly."
Once these steps are completed, new hires can be advanced to the
trainee level, with "appropriate fanfare!"
"Some ceremony will demonstrate the seriousness with which the
agency holds these standards of performance."
Growing your agents
More on the next three levels of agent advancement in the Travel
Agency Management Services' (TAMS) Agent Growth program (see story
at above):Agent trainees can be assigned to a senior agent for mentoring.
For the first three to four months, they should "act only as
support for that person," doing routine tasks to help the senior
agent with productivity.
Trainees will then assume reservationist duties, still "in close
proximity to their mentoring agent. They should have weekly
evaluations and be aware of productivity goals" as well as complete
the Travel Agent Proficiency test.
Agents should remain at the trainee level for not more than 12
to 18 months. "If they have not mastered the skill levels required
in that time frame, they should be considered for replacement."Agent associates "will continue to be mentored by a senior
agent but not as closely as when they were a trainee." Agents in
this category "should be expected to advance to senior levels, but
it should be recognized that sustained performance at this level is
adequate and acceptable for some. It should be emphasized that
although agent associates can elevate themselves to higher levels,
they cannot go backward. Failure to sustain productivity levels
should result in termination."Before attaining senior agent status, associates must
demonstrate "exceptional skills and loyalty as well as substantial
productivity. They will continue to hone management skills because
it is from these ranks that managers will be chosen."Defusing the air powder keg
If you sell cruises, I think I'm safe in saying that the vast
majority of your client complaints have to do with getting to and
from the cruise product -- and not about what happens aboard the
When you book a cruise with air included, you are providing a
travel arrangement over which you have no control.
contract airline receives passenger names about 30 days before
sailing and scraps around for the best available seats at the
lowest possible fare base. Your clients might be forced to get on
flights with one or even two stops.
To provide better service, many cruise agents now routinely
include or discuss the option of an air deviation, which enables
them to request specific air booking changes (which still may be
turned down) for an additional cost of $35 to $50 per person.
The air decision is the powder keg of most leisure bookings, the
part most likely to explode without warning. That is why you should
consider a requirement that all agents recommend the air deviation
option. "Air deviation discussed and accepted/refused" might be a
good phrase to include on a cruise invoice.
Richard Turen is an industry consultant and travel agency
president. Contact him at [email protected].