It's become a familiar lament among travel agency owners and managers: the challenges in finding smart, capable young people interested in careers as agents.
It's prompted a lot of head scratching and led some host agencies to start their own training for entry-level agents. Industry groups such as ASTA are addressing the issue, exacerbated by the pending retirement of a generation of agents, through new programs for younger agents.
Now a two-year-old nonprofit organization called Young Travel Professionals is taking a different tack, encouraging veteran agents, including experienced home-based agents, to sign up as mentors for young people in their 20s interested in a career in the industry.
“A lot of young people have no idea how to get into the travel industry,” said Wazha Dube, co-founder of the New York-based organization, which has grown to 2,000 members from many different industry segments, including tour operators and travel technology companies. “I went to school for tourism at Hawaii Pacific University, but I've found that 90% of people in the industry never studied travel or tourism and had no idea where to start in the industry. They were mentored by their bosses at their first jobs.”
In just a short time of announcing the start of the program, Young Travel Professionals has signed up five travel agents who are eager to guide young people interested in careers as agents. Dube said that the veteran agents recognize the need to combat the perception of the profession as a dinosaur.
“There's that mentality among young people that there's no future as a travel agent and you'll hear people say, ‘Oh, my grandmother was a travel agent.’ But there is a future,” he said. The mentoring program involves regular meetings, networking and support for a six-month period. There's no charge, and the organization does the matchmaking.
For the mentor, it's an opportunity to find out what the younger generation, raised in the digital era, is looking for in a travel career and to possibly find candidates to hire, he said.
“A lot of travel agencies have not been hiring or having a hard time finding young people to hire. It gives them the opportunity to pass down their knowledge and share experiences with a young person. You'll also get a perspective from young people on where the travel industry is going.”
He believes that home-based agents in particular have much to share. “Working from home is where much of the travel agency industry is going.”
For more information, contact [email protected] or see www.youngtravelprofessionals.com.
This article has been updated to reflect that Wazha Dube went to Hawaii Pacific University, not the University of Hawaii as originally stated.