The industry is experiencing rising demand from would-be agents for training courses, due largely to an influx of newcomers as baby boomers begin to retire.

And while the number of traditional travel schools has dropped, consortia and host agencies have filled the gap, and both have recently seen growth in their training programs.

The Travel Institute offers a Travel Introductory Program (TripKit) that is used by many trainers. COO Diane Petras said sales have been on an upswing for the past seven years. In fact, in 2015 TripKit sales grew 72% over 2014, she said.

That demand has remained high. In the first quarter of 2016, TripKit sales were greater than in Q1 2015, Petras said, and she predicted sales will likely continue to grow.

The increase was not due to a distribution-channel change, but Petras said there has been a shift: Fewer colleges are offering travel programs, but more consortia and agencies provide training.

Marc Mancini, president of Marc Mancini Seminars and Consulting, said he has also seen an increase in sales of his textbooks.

“It probably has doubled in the last few years,” he said.

Mancini said consortia training programs are on the rise, filling the gap created by the drop in more traditional travel schools. For example, he said, there once were seven or eight travel schools in the Los Angeles area, either private or part of community colleges. Today, that number hovers around two.

“I think what happened, what killed it, is the public perception that the travel business was no longer made up of travel agents,” Mancini said.

Even so, the travel schools that remain are experiencing growing interest from prospective students. That increase can be partly attributed to the decreasing number of the schools, but Debbie Wilson, professor and department chair of the travel marketing program at California’s Los Medanos College, said she is seeing increased overall interest in the program.

Courses are capped at a set number of students. Wilson doesn’t keep a formal tally of inquiries about the program, which would indicate growing interest, but she said anecdotally that she has noticed an increase in inquiries in the past three years, especially in 2015.

Agency and consortia training programs are also drawing increased interest.

Sheri Selkirk, vice president of hosting at Brownell Travel, said the agency’s mentoring program, a yearlong education program with two sessions offered per year, remains small, with four to five students in each class. Even with a capped number, though, interest is on the rise: Each year for the last five, there has been a 10% increase in the number of inquiries about the program.

Travel Leaders Group’s program, Travel Leaders of Tomorrow, is experiencing rapid growth. In its first year, it attracted 23 participants, a number that jumped to 126 in its second year and is on track to register more than 175 participants in its third year.

Its director, Heather Kindred, said part of that growth could be attributed to the program’s exposure, but she feels interest has also increased because of a more positive public perception of a career as a travel adviser.

“For so long, we’ve been saying we need to attract our youth, so what a lot of these host agencies and larger agencies are doing is incorporating a very formal training process,” Petras said. “It’s a vetting process: You can go to school, you can learn and then if you’re good, we’re going to hire you. And I think that’s how a lot of these agencies are attracting youth.”

Mancini, too, said younger agents are a cause of the increase in training demand.

“Finally, we’re getting new people in as travel agents,” he said. “The baby boomer travel agents are finally getting to the end of their careers and moving along, and we haven’t found enough people to replace them.”

It’s a simple equation, Mancini said: Someone new to a career needs training.

Money is also a factor. In a country coming out of an economic recession, he said, consortia, even suppliers, have more money to spend on training programs.

The value of and demand for training new agents is not lost on consortia and host agencies. Travel Leaders is currently experimenting with expanding class sizes to accommodate more students as potential future hires, Kindred said.

“We really feel like if you go right to selling travel, it’s like putting the cart before the horse; you don’t have the foundation of information,” she said.

By taking training programs, she said, “You are giving yourself a foundation of knowledge that should give you that advantage over someone who either isn’t a travel professional or who hasn’t had that education.”

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