Jamie Biesiada
Jamie Biesiada

Not too long ago, the travel industry had a pretty big, collective concern: that it would age out.

"By and large, I think it's a problem that we've largely solved," said Troy Haas, president and CEO of Birmingham, Ala.-based Brownell Travel. "I think we benefit from the fact that the younger generation wants to do work that means something to them, and we do work that means something to people. These are careers that are enjoyable."

Brownell has done particularly well at attracting younger travel advisors just starting their careers. (Haas said its success is also due to career-changers attracted to the travel industry.) The Birmingham Business Journal just named the agency, North America's oldest, the "Best Place to Work for Young Professionals."

About 12 years ago, Brownell realized it needed to transform its business to be attractive to a younger generation of travel advisors. Two main things helped the agency become successful in that pursuit.

For one, Brownell became an attractive organization for millennial clients by employing members of their generation on its team.

Additionally, Haas said, it came down to understanding and embracing the differences between each generation.

"We really spent some time understanding differences in the mindset between the boomer, the [Gen] Xers and the millennials to try to approach them from a position of respect for each one of them," he said. "There certainly was a lot of press and buzz and irritation toward the millennial at one time, and if you come at it from that default point of view, you're pretty much set to fail."

That mindset was in keeping with one of Brownell's core values: graciousness.

"Graciousness really means you approach things from a position of extending grace and merit to each other," Haas said.

Brownell worked with its advisors to encourage millennials to be ready to learn from the more experienced boomers and encouraged boomers to be open-minded to the skill set millennials bring to the table, especially technical savvy.

"Instead of getting crossed up and frustrated with the other's lack of knowledge, turn it on its ear and be curious about the wisdom and the savvy of each other," Haas said.

About seven or eight years ago, Brownell had an "aha! moment" born out of a case of intergenerational learning: Younger advisors showed more seasoned advisors how to create more dynamic, visual itineraries using Google Maps.

"To approach it from a position of mutual respect, curiosity for what the other brought to the table, that really was an aha! moment and a turning point for us," Haas said.

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