As trade ages, more agencies opting to recruit ‘newbies’ to travel industry

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A family travel blog became a springboard into a career selling travel for Buena Paz Lara Montero, a mother of two.
A family travel blog became a springboard into a career selling travel for Buena Paz Lara Montero, a mother of two.

Amid growing concerns about the aging of retail travel advisers, consortia and agencies are employing a variety of tactics to court new agents. Among the most counterintuitive of these is the notion of seeking people with no experience in the travel industry.

More traditional means of appealing to prospective agents, such as working with travel schools and advertising in trade publications or websites, are still regularly employed with good results. However, some are finding it more appealing to tap the new-to-the-industry pool to attract those who have no preconceived notions or bad habits.

Kathryn Mazza-Burney
Kathryn Mazza-Burney

Travelsavers agencies are busy enough to report actively looking for new hires, according to Kathryn Mazza-Burney, executive vice president of sales for Travelsavers and NEST (Network of Entrepreneurs Selling Travel).

The agencies, she said, are turning to the usual suspects — travel schools and universities with tourism programs — but they are also expanding their reach.

“They’re looking now outside of the industry,” she said. “As far as they’re concerned, it’s easier to find someone who’s got the skill set, not necessarily the travel experience. They can always teach the travel industry. They can’t teach them to sell, so they’re looking for qualified sales people.”

In the same vein, Bonnie Lee, CEO of host agency Travel Quest, seeks new-to-the-industry agents by advertising on HostAgencyReviews.com, a spot she believes prospective agents might stumble upon. While Lee values experienced agents, she is also attracted to the “passion” new blood bring to the table.

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Travel Quest opened its annual meeting to nonmembers several years ago, which gives potential agents a good introduction to the company and the industry.

Tim Courtney, vice president of franchise and network development at CruiseOne (which recently added the Dream Vacations brand), said that in 2008 and 2009 the franchiser started increasing recruitment efforts.

“We knew that recruiting from within the industry is still a good idea, but the industry is aging,” Courtney said. “The industry needs new blood to survive.”

He said that 80% to 85% of recruits are new to the industry, coming from the corporate world, the military and more. To attract those franchisees, CruiseOne/Dream Vacations advertises in spaces people looking for entrepreneurial ventures would visit, such as Entrepreneur magazine.

Expedia CruiseShipCenters also specifically seeks franchisees who are new to the industry, in particular passionate cruisers, according to President Matthew Eichhorst. The company awarded 40 franchises in 2015 and will award another 45 in 2016.

In 2015, Expedia CruiseShipCenters brought in 1,200 new agents, and Eichhorst said that about 90% of them had not previously worked in the travel industry, a fact that he said expands the company’s circles of influence to different groups.

Scott Koepf
Scott Koepf

Even those agencies that don’t specifically seek agents without industry experience are seeing a growth in that kind of agent. For example, while Avoya Travel primarily sees its new travel advisers coming from within the industry, the category of new-to-the-industry agent is growing “significantly,” according to Scott Koepf, senior vice president of sales.

Jackie Friedman, president of the host agency Nexion, said, “Depending on the nature of the business, I’ve spoken to agency owners who do not — absolutely do not — want people with experience or with preconceived ideas or biases. They are looking for the right blend of soft skills. They look for a certain type of personality and a certain type of communication skills … and they are more than happy to train [new agents]. The ones who do that can do it very, very successfully. They take it a couple of agents at a time and are prepared to put the time in. Unfortunately, that’s the exception, not the norm.”

That is one of the reasons that programs like Travel Leaders Group’s Travel Leaders of Tomorrow and Protravel International’s and Tzell Travel Group’s Next exist.

Marisa Costa runs Next and is also on the global board of the group Young Travel Professionals. When Next was launched, she said, “We interviewed hiring agents, and their feedback was that they were simply too busy to train someone.” They needed agents with some experience, she said, which is what Next offers.

MTravel, Montrose Travel’s host agency, looks for both agents with experience and without, according to its business development manager, Emily Peters.

“We want new agents because, yes, it’s fantastic to be able to get them right at the beginning and be able to establish that relationship for the long haul,” she said. “But experienced agents are also equally attractive. It’s definitely something that we want to incorporate, not just because they have a proven volume, but also I think it’s important to have a mix.”

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MTravel typically looks for motivated prospective agents who have already completed some kind of travel school or program, Peters said. The company markets online and does some advertising in trade publications.

Most agree, however, that the best ways to recruit agents, whether those new to the industry or simply those new to the company, are among the simplest: networking and word of mouth.

Heather Kindred, director of Travel Leaders of Tomorrow, broke new agents into two main groups: younger professionals early in their career who have done other jobs for a few years and what she called the “encore career” group, those who have had successful careers in other fields, such as education or jobs that required travel, and now want to work in the industry.

“The ultimate similarity that they have is that they want to get up every day and work in something they’re passionate about,” she said. “They love travel. They’re spending every free minute either thinking about travel or planning travel or actually traveling.”

Costa said new agents have “no set background,” adding that she has seen a wide variety ranging from recruits who were in the digital marketing field to one who was an entertainer on a cruise ship.

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