MBGUATEMALA200X115Travel Weekly’s Michelle Baran is in Guatemala for the ASTA Young Professional Society’s spring retreat. Her first dispatch follows. 

I knew this wasn’t going to be a typical fam trip when I got the email outlining a “solid nightlife plan” for the ASTA Young Professional Society spring retreat in Guatemala, a plan that warned participants that the bar/nightclub scene ends early in the Central American country, by 1 a.m. latest.

But not to fear, there was an after-party contingency plan.

ASTAYPS-GuatemalaCityTourIndeed, fresh off the plane in Guatemala City on the first day of the retreat, the under-40 travel sellers hit the Guatemalan capital’s nightclub scene until the wee hours of the morning — 7 a.m. wakeup call be damned.

To their credit, the 14 youthful travel agents are not just in Guatemala to party. In between sightseeing, site inspections and, yes, some nightlife, they’ve been networking, swapping trade secrets, talking shop, updating their social media feeds and checking in with work and clients.

On the second day of the retreat, YPS President Ryan McGredy gave a brief talk about the purpose of the retreat and reminded the group that they were in Guatemala representing YPS.

This is the future generation of travel agents, and spending several days with them in a dynamic, up-and-coming destination like Guatemala challenged so many travel agent stereotypes.

In some ways, they’re not all that different than their senior predecessors — they’re all in the same business of booking travel, after all.

But it’s their mindset that is both interesting and inspiring. They’re extremely comfortable with technology and social media. It was incredible to see how tethered they were to smartphones (hey, as one of their peers, I was guilty of it too!), tools that can be used to better connect with clients and to improve selling and marketing strategies.

Beyond that, they’re also comfortable with challenging some of the “old ways” of doing business.

Over beers at a bar playing loud ’80s music in Lake Atitlan, we discussed some of the dilemmas of the commission model and preferred-supplier agreements.

ASTAYPS-WiFiDinnerSome believed in focusing more on a fee structure, while others noted that for the amount of work they do on supplier’s behalf, commission will forever be a must.

I asked whether they would casually give their good friends at a party the same travel advice that they would give to a client in a more formal business setting where they are conscious of the profit structure, and the answers varied.

Asked if they would sell a product to their clients that didn’t offer commission, they said yes. It’s a business built on retaining business, and sometimes that means selling a non-commissionable product because that better suits their client’s needs.

They seemed to be realistic about what can and can’t be done, and flexible about change. Their “why not” attitude is what struck me as the greatest advantage their youthfulness brings.

All told, are they young and looking to have some fun? Absolutely. Are they serious about the retail business? I don’t think they would be here if they weren’t.

Follow Michelle Baran on Twitter @mbtravelweekly.

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