How do you become a successful travel advisor?
There are undoubtedly many paths that lead to success, but a panel hosted by ASTA's director of communications, Erika Richter, at the recent New York Times Travel Show shed some light on some of them.
The panelists started with some words of wisdom to new-to-the-industry advisors.
Chris Seddelmeyer, owner of Travel Concepts in Lima, Ohio, worked in Delta reservations centers in Miami and St. Louis in the mid-1970s. She always had the travel bug, and when a move back to Ohio meant she couldn't keep working for Delta, she went to her local agency and got a job. She ultimately opened her own agency.
"I think, really, the best advice is that you need to have a passion for travel," Seddelmeyer said. "You absolutely need to have that bug in your system in order to start out. That is going to be part of your success."
Kerry Dyer, the director of talent development at Brownell Travel in Birmingham, Ala., said the most important thing for an advisor to have after passion is a good business sense.
"So many people get into this because they love travel and they want to travel and they want to see the world, and they're just so excited and interested," Dyer said. "As a business owner, you may not be the one on the trip, so you still need to find the passion to be able to express that and share that."
In short, she said, be OK with being the one at home for now, building a business that will enable further travel later on.
Passion isn't just limited to travel itself, said Rob Karp, CEO and founder of MilesAhead in Briarcliff Manor, N.Y. It's also about creating the trips that others want, Karp said, and making sure they have the best experiences possible.
"Travel was a value that was instilled in me at a very young age," said Joshua Bush, CEO of Avenue Two Travel, a family business.
Bush actually started his career in consumer finance after college, but he quickly learned he missed travel and wanted it back. He came back to the agency and decided to grow the business by opening it up to independent contractors (ICs). They became Avenue Two's "internal clients," Bush said, much more than just ICs.
"That really boils down to my takeaway, which is this business is so much about relationships," he said, including relationships with clients and suppliers.
Richter said she often advises new agents to come up with a two-minute elevator pitch about what they do and why they do it. Passion for travel will translate into that, she said, and it's useful -- you never know when you'll be in a situation to gain a new client.
The panelists also addressed another critical area for any new advisor: training.
ASTA is often asked what requirements are in place for advisors in the U.S., but "the answer is there are none," Richter said. "There is no universal licensing or training requirements."
To be an advisor, she said, there are a number of things to consider -- like business model, insurance, etc. -- but there is no clear-cut path to becoming an advisor. But there are a number of training resources to consider, she said, like the Travel Institute, a good place to start, especially for newcomers (ASTA's Verified Travel Advisor program is designed for agents with a little bit of experience under their belts).
"The critical place to start is doing your research," Dyer said.
Each training program is different and might be a better fit for one advisor rather than another. For instance, Brownell's program is full-time training. That might not work for a lot of new entrants, but other hosts and industry groups offer less-intensive training.
She recommended Host Agency Reviews (https://hostagencyreviews.com) as a resource for new agents.
Dyer also said continuing education, on both destinations and business practices, is also important. She also recommended subscribing to trade publications to stay up to date on industry goings-on.
Karp also encouraged advisors to cement solid relationships with their clients.
"I think the biggest thing with training is starting with the basics," he said. "It's great to know how to use a GDS. It's great to know how to quote a hotel. It's great to know how to establish relationships with suppliers. But I think the first thing it comes down to is the communication you have with a client. How you talk to a client, how you manage that relationship, how you get them to trust you, and that's where you start. Once you have that foundation, you can run with it."