Math, psych and travel 101

ike many schools offering programs in travel and tourism around the country, the Community College of Denver in Auraria, Colo., has been faced with declining numbers in recent years. For the last two years, it has struggled to keep its doors open.

"We've had problems with decreasing [numbers of] students in the travel and tourism program, but this is not exclusive to our school," claimed Fred Tiller, coordinator and sole teacher of the travel and tourism program at the school since last fall.

This 35-year industry veteran and former president of ASTA's Rocky Mountain Chapter has spent 12 of his years as an agent and 10 years combined as a wholesaler and at the airlines.

The Community College of Denver's travel and tourism students range from high school graduates to retirees, career-changers and agents. With his strong industry background, Tiller recognized the need for change. In February, his school became a Travel Agent Proficiency test site and a licensed learning center for the Institute of Certified Travel Agents, the only one of its kind in the state.

Now the school can offer a mix of learning options to would-be agents and industry veterans alike. Students have the choice of pursuing a two-year degree, taking ad hoc courses or enrolling in the travel and tourism certification for two semesters.

"We at the Community College of Denver share a commitment to ongoing training and education," said Tiller.

"Most of the programs that failed or are failing have locked students into either a degree or a certificate.

"Our philosophy is, 'Take whatever courses you need to take to get where you want to be.' "

The Community College of Denver is located on the same campus as Metropolitan State College and the University of Colorado at Denver. The program's curriculum addresses the agent's need for specialization by including three ICTA destination-specialist courses this fall: on Latin America, western Europe and special-interest travel.

As the program grows, Tiller said, he would like to offer all 12 destination-specialist courses.

"My goal is to remind students that the industry is bigger than airline tickets," he said.

The school gets a wide variety of students, from agents who want to run their own businesses, to new entrants, retirees and those changing careers.

The average class size is 12 to 15 students, but Tiller would like to widen the program to attract 18 or 20 students per class.

There are 22 courses in the two-year degree program, which requires courses such as math, introduction to business, keyboarding, introduction to PC application, legal writing, principles of sales and marketing, speech, general psychology, business communications and customer service.

Eleven of the courses are specific to the travel and tourism industry.

The college's travel and tourism program offers scholarship opportunities, on-line courses and flexibility, including the freedom to substitute courses if students have specific needs they want to address, such as learning a foreign language or management skills.

"I want to give them a well-rounded set of skills and education they can take into the industry," he said.

"The joy I get from teaching is sharing my 35 years of experiences across several segments of the business."

-- Michele SanFilippo

Referrals wanted

o spread the word about the Community College of Denver's enhanced travel and tourism program, its coordinator, Fred Tiller, will be conducting a travel career seminar on May 24 aimed at all Denver-area public high schools.

"I am placing a heavy emphasis on selling skills and personal development," said Tiller. "If we can find people who are good at selling and interacting with clients, then we can train them for our business."

The college is in the process of establishing partnerships with companies in various industry sectors, so that it can provide placement opportunities for its students.

"We also need to establish a stronger partnership with agents to help get students into our programs and employees into agencies because the industry benefits in the long run," he said.

Fred Tiller.Tiller added that in the 35 years he's been in this industry, he has never seen demand as high or supply as low.

"All these needs aren't going to go away, but we have to get the support of agents or programs such as ours will go away," he said.

Tiller claimed that the industry's hiring crisis will remain a constant if agents adhere to the notion that they have to hire only candidates with travel experience.

He emphasized hiring agency candidates based on their attitude, sales skills and customer service.

"Look for these fundamental qualities when you hire, and then train for ongoing education in the business," he said.

"This is a people business, so you can't put a price tag on people and experience in this type of work."

Tiller added that the growth in the airline industry alone in the next few years is going to be enormous, forcing all other segments to grow in response.

Plus clients now have more freedom and time to travel than ever before.

"The beautiful thing about our industry is that we are selling something that everyone wants to buy," he said.

What service means to your bottom line

uality customer service has a compelling impact on profit and costs, particularly when examining client retention in the service industry.

Losing clients to the competition is a significant cost to your business when you consider:

  • It costs five to six times more for a company to attract a new customer than to keep a current one.
  • Approximately 65% of your business comes from repeat clients. Therefore, a significant cost is incurred in attracting the other 35%.
  • A 2% increase in client retention affects the bottom line the same as cutting costs by 10%.
  • Julie Olley.In today's market, we cannot afford to lose good clients. The following are examples of how to acknowledge and express your appreciation. By taking certain steps, you tighten the relationship with your client and lessen the appeal of seeking the competition.

  • Referrals. Do your clients send their friends, relatives or business associates to you? How do you acknowledge and thank them for sending new business?
  • Repeat clients. If longtime clients feel that you no longer value their business, they might decide to give the competition a try. What are you doing to tell repeat clients that you appreciate their loyalty?
  • Suggestions. You don't need a "suggestion box" to receive ideas from your customers. Sometimes, clients, who are the ones who interact with your business, have the best ideas. How do you collect ideas and let customers know that you've heard them?
  • Technology. With global competition, providing excellent customer service has become vital. How does your customer interact with your agency? Have you tested all communication channels to determine how customer friendly they are?
  • Technology can work to your disadvantage if it is too complicated, inefficient or leaves the client wondering.

    It can also be used as an efficient acknowledgment tool to let customers know you have not forgotten them and appreciate their business.

    Julie Olley is the owner of the London, Ontario-based consulting firm Perfect Word. She can be reached at [email protected] or by visiting her Web site at www.perfectword.on.ca.

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