Today’s online education opportunities make it easier than ever for travel advisors to make training an ongoing priority—and reap the benefits of increased knowledge, marketing strategies and bookings.
Whether they’re new to the industry or have decades of experience, travel advisors should be making training an ongoing priority. Why? According to both travel advisors and experts, education equals elevated sales confidence and increased bookings. And in the competitive world of travel sales, it has become a necessary part of business.
Training is a clear way for advisors to stand out from the pack, and especially from online booking engines. The challenge for travel advisors, however, is deciding which programs are worthy of their time—and how to find that time amid otherwise busy schedules. For many, the answer is online options, which offer the flexibility to complete training at their own pace while simultaneously keeping up with daily work demands, business travel and other considerations.
“Agents should take training seriously and make it part of their annual business plans,” says Emma Mullane, senior travel sales agent at AAA Evergreen Park in Illinois. “I know that agents are busy and sometimes we feel like we don’t have the time, but it’s worth taking an hour or two out of your day, every week or even month, depending on your work schedule. You’d be surprised how much you learn from taking online training.”
Mullane says that she is “participating in more training than ever before,” doing at least one online training a day. “It’s not only for my personal knowledge, but I like to be able to talk to my clients about what I’ve learned, rather than just close the sale,” she says.
From gaining better knowledge of the products they sell to leveraging new ways to market their business, travel advisors benefit in myriad ways from ongoing education—and with online options, keeping up with training opportunities is easier and more lucrative than ever.
More Education…More Success
More and more travel advisors are recognizing the importance of keeping up their knowledge and training. The Travel Institute’s 2018 The Changing Face of Travel Agents study found that “destination or niche training certificates from a vendor or other organization were held by 38 percent of agents and another 21 percent were earned through The Travel Institute.”
Virtuoso has seen the number of advisors participating in their hosted training grow 26 percent in the past year, according to Jennifer Campbell, managing director of professional development and agency services for Virtuoso.
“Today’s travel advisors are dealing with some of the most informed and best-educated consumers ever because of access to information at their fingertips,” says Campbell. “To keep up with this type of client, advisors need to expand their own knowledge base. Whether it’s new products or emerging destinations and trends, advisors need to be current on how the travel landscape is evolving. In addition to increased product awareness, there’s always the opportunity to improve business acumen and sales approach as well.”
Leslie Sherrill, a travel agent with AAA Santa Maria in California, agrees that being educated helps her stay up to date on the places her clients travel to and the vendors they can use to get there. “It helps me better answer the questions that my clients have,” she adds.
From a supplier standpoint, Clarissa Mattos, Eurail’s North America Market Manager, has seen an increasing interest in the Eurail Specialist Academy that launched in 2018. “Travel advisors are realizing that education is a way to stand out from other advisors by offering more qualified service,” she says. “Today, we have a world of technology that is making information much more accessible. More and more, advisors need to be an expert in traveling—not just someone to mediate the transaction. Training can add that extra touch to the purchase for customers.”
The Travel Institute’s research also supports the idea that more educated travel advisors are more successful. Survey findings from The Changing Face of Travel Agents show that “higher sales and income are by-products of certification.”
Ann Chamberlin, senior vice president membership, marketing and strategic partnerships for ASTA, agrees that “the more knowledgeable and educated you are, the more money you will make. There is a direct correlation and that’s why education and training are important.”
Flexibility and Convenience
When it comes to education, Campbell advises approaching it the same as any other essential business task. “If you think of training as an investment—which it is—then advisors absolutely should incorporate education into their annual business plans,” she says. “Establish it as a goal and commit to making it happen. We find that advisors who participate in training outsell their peers, proving its effectiveness.”
While the benefits of travel training are clearly defined, the biggest question for travel advisors is how to fit ongoing education into their busy schedules—and online training offers a convenience factor that puts advisors in control of when, where and how they accomplish their learning goals.
“You can log on to online courses at your convenience, whether that’s during your lunch break or after work hours,” says Chamberlin. “You do it at your own pace. It’s also portable, and a lot of our advisors travel the world.”
To that end, Campbell says, “One of the reasons Virtuoso offers webinars and courses on a 24/7 basis is that we know a travel advisor’s time is not their own. Travel advisors are busy taking care of clients. It’s a difficult decision to take time away from the day-to-day and prioritize their education, but it is a very worthwhile investment of their time. By providing them with the flexibility to participate when it makes sense for them—evenings, weekends, whenever—they are much more likely to fit it into their hectic lives.”
Mullane also sees online training as the easiest way for travel advisors to take advantage of educational sessions. “We all know that as travel agents, we never have a minute to just sit back and do nothing,” she says. “We are always booking, quoting or sitting down with appointments. Online trainings are easy to do and you don’t even have to leave your desk.”
As a strategy for fitting online training into her work days, Mullane uses a dual monitor at her desk to multitask. Although she tries to do her training in one sitting if she can, she notes, “Another advantage of online training is that if a customer walks in, you don’t have to start all over. You can continue where you left off after your client has left or even continue it at home if you like.”
“Online education saves on travel time, hotel costs and mileage,” Sherrill says. “It also helps agents balance the needs of their work and family life.” However you have to break up the sessions to make it work, the bottom line for Sherrill is that advisors “should participate in online training whenever and however they have an opportunity.”
According to Chamberlin, another benefit of online training is the plus of “instant recognition.” She explains: “Advisors take the quiz and know immediately if they pass and can move on to the next. There is gratification in that as well.”
Leveraging the Benefits
In addition to the enhanced knowledge and possible supplier perks that can come with training, travel advisors can use their training to market their personal expertise and overall business. “Education allows advisors to market themselves differently,” says Campbell. “Using the tools and channels available to them, from engaging in PR and social media to utilizing their relationships with partners, there are many opportunities to share their depth of knowledge with clients, prospects and media.”
Mattos agrees that training can—and should—be used to position advisors as the experts they are in their field. “If advisors are certified in any product, they should put it on social media and write blogs about it on the agency’s site and in emails,” she says. “It will give them credibility, and they will stand out as a knowledgeable travel advisor.”
Even subtle techniques can help spread the word that a travel advisor is now an expert in a certain product or destination following training. “After I finish an online program, I print out the certificate and display it in my office,” says Sherrill. “Sometimes I will add the logo to my email signature.”