ANTIGUA, Guatemala — In a meeting room set among the ruins of a former convent that now make up the Casa Santa Domingo Hotel here, a two-hour roundtable discussion held by ASTA's Young Professionals Society (YPS) made it clear that younger agents are serious about success.
It also revealed that they are open to ideas about how to change and improve traditional retail business models.
"The more faces you see that are under 40, it does a whole different thing for the industry," said Ryan McGredy, president of Moraga, Calif.-based Moraga Travel, who serves as YPS president. The ASTA chapter is open to agents under the age of 40.
The YPS agents had gathered in Guatemala as part of a business retreat and fam trip. In between sightseeing, site inspections and nightlife, they swapped trade secrets, updated their social media feeds and checked in with work and clients.
During the roundtable discussion, the group brainstormed on how to recruit and train young talent. Several of the members brought up the desire to instigate credible intern programs that would give them the opportunity to recruit workers and bring them up through the ranks.
YPS will host an event called the Blue Sky Symposium in conjunction with Travel Weekly's Global Travel Marketplace in Fort Lauderdale in July. In preparation for that event, Jason Coleman, president of Jason Coleman Inc. in Los Angeles and a former YPS president, asked members to think about some of the topics that will be examined at the symposium, for example, the effectiveness of agent education.
"It's all about exploring what's wrong right now and what are we going to do about it?" Coleman said.
The discussion turned to specialist and expert classifications and whether taking an online training course should give an agent the same specialist qualification as actually experiencing the destination and the product — and whether those classifications even mean anything to the client.
"Experiencing the product is the best way to learn about it and sell it," said Dave Goodman, marketing director for Los Angeles-based All-Travel.com.
Brian Harris, president of ResortVenues.com, said that another big hole in agent education is business training.
The current agent education model is "dominated by product," Harris said. "There is no business training. That is a huge opportunity for YPS. That's what the younger community needs more than anything."
One of the main topics the YPS agents examined was public relations and how agents can and should be using the media to help boost exposure and business.
"Get a P.R. company to do media training," said Anthony Cheng, COO of Alhambra, Calif.-based APF Travel. "At any given time, you should have three points you want to get across about your company."
As the meeting came to a close, it became clear that there was much more work to be done. But one huge advantage these young agents appeared to have is a willingness to challenge (and break) the mold and tackle agent issues with new and evolving 21st century solutions.
Follow Michelle Baran on Twitter @mbtravelweekly.