THE SPECIALISTS: Getting in on a good thing

t's much like the medical profession: You can make a living as a family-practice doctor, but if you're motivated to make the big bucks, you have to become a specialist.

For agents seeking to improve their fortunes, learning to be a specialist in a destination or a travel segment can be the path to success.

Suppliers have created a wide range of programs aimed at helping agents develop specialties.

Below, Travel Weekly offers a sampling of programs, mainly selected from those offered by individual suppliers. There are many additional programs available from trade associations such as ASTA, the Cruise Lines International Association and the National Tour Association.

Most of the programs included below were identified with the cooperation of the Institute of Certified Travel Agents (ICTA).

Adventurology

Sponsor: Glacier Bay Tours and Cruises

Eligibility requirements: Open to all travel agents. Must complete training program with test as well as complete one adventure activity. Agents can send a photo of themselves doing the adventure activity with their completed exam.

In addition, agents who take fam trips with Glacier Bay are provided with an Adventurology course book and can opt to complete the training and adventure activity during the cruise.

Benefits: Course designed to help agents learn to sell lucrative adventure travel.

Contact: (800) 451-5952 and ask for Adventurology kit

'It's About You' Caribbean Specialist Program

Sponsor: Air Jamaica Vacations

Eligibility requirements: Open to all U.S. agents. Candidates must study training manual (available in print or online versions) and then pass online exam at www.theacademy.com/ajv. There's a $50 registration fee, payable by credit card or check.

Benefits: Graduates of the course, which covers 11 Air Jamaica Vacations destinations in the Caribbean, receive a certificate; first options on fam trips and co-op marketing initiatives; up to $50 in bonus commission; and up to four ICTA continuing-education units. Candidates who complete the course and pass the exam receive two ICTA continuing-education units; those who attend Air Jamaica Vacations' seminar series earn an additional two credits.

Contact: www.theacademy.com/ajv

Aruba Certified Expert (ACE) Program

Sponsor: Aruba Tourism Authority

Eligibility requirements: For active U.S. or Canadian agents. Must complete either four-hour training seminar in person or an ACE Home Study Course available in print or online at agents.aruba.com. Initial fee is $35 in both U.S. and Canada. To maintain membership, ACE agents must fulfill certain criteria, such as travel to Aruba at least once every three years and active reporting of Aruba sales.

Benefits: Workbook, resource manual and reference materials such as CD-ROMs. Upon graduation, ACE agents receive four ICTA continuing education units plus lead referrals, $20 cash-back coupon applicable to first booking, marketing materials such as postcards and ticket stuffers, newsletter subscription, access to co-op ad funds, invitation to annual ACE convention and production tracking awards.

Contact: Aruba Tourism Authority ACE Desk at (800) TO-ARUBA or http://agents.aruba.com

Aussie Specialist Program

Sponsor: Australian Tourism Commission

Eligibility requirements: For active U.S. or Canadian agents.

Must complete training program, concluding with certification quiz. Training kit, including printed source materials and 90-minute training video, costs $75. In addition, certificate holders pay annual fee of $75. For Canadians, both fees are $55.

Benefits: The main payoff is referrals, made by matching prospects and agents geographically. Benefits also include a marketing kit; free collaterals, such as posters, postcards and tour shells; a monthly newsletter; and exclusive access to a specialist's hot line and Web site. Agents can earn up to 10 ICTA continuing-education units through participation.

Contact:www.travelagent.australia.com

Black Hills Specialist Program

Sponsor: Black Hills, Badlands and Lakes Association

Eligibility requirements: Must complete exam based on material in a 32-page travel guide to the Black Hills. Agents can use either an electronic or print version of the guide and the exam. Test takes approximately two hours.

Benefits: Receive referrals; invitations for events and fam trips; and special offers.

Contact: (800) 456-5332 or (763) 212-2558; www.blackhillsagent.com

BritAgent Program

Sponsor: VisitBritain

Eligibility requirements: Open to all U.S. agents. Participants must study 12-module online training kit and correctly answer 60 of 90 questions in online exam. Registration and first year's membership is $75; annual renewals cost $50.

Benefits: Upon enrollment, agents get e-mail news broadcasts, telephone hot line, Brit-Agent Web-site access and study-trip invitations. After graduating, BritAgents receive lead referrals, 10 ICTA credits, certificate and permission for promotional logo use.

Contact:www.visitbritain.com/trade or (212) 850-0327

Small-Ship Cruising Specialist Accreditation Program

Sponsor: Captain Cook Cruises

Eligibility requirements: Open to travel agents worldwide; no productivity requirements or fees; must complete 84-page workbook and five-part quiz, which can be ordered from the company or accessed through the company's Web site at www.captaincook.com.au.

Benefits: Last year, agents who completed the program received a free four-day cruise, and Captain Cook said it is working on a similar incentive for this year. Agents also receive a certificate and some promotional materials. Also, the company provides discount offers on fam trips and plans an agent-referral program.

Contact:[email protected]; (866) 331-3365

Cook Islands Specialist Program

Sponsor: Cook Islands Tourism Corp.

Eligibility requirements: Agents must research and correctly answer 90% of the 55 questions on the Cook Islands test. Because the program is new, no productivity requirements are in place.

Benefits: Agents who become Cook Islands specialists get put in the destination's database; when potential visitors inquire, they automatically get a list of agent specialists in their area. Agents also have access to the latest news and special packages and get priority on fam trips.

Contact: e-mail: [email protected]; www.cook-islands.com

Pura Vida Educational Workshop

Sponsor: Costa Rica Tourist Board

Eligibility requirements: For active U.S. or Canadian agents. To launch at end of 2003, full-day, free training workshop will feature in-depth introduction to Costa Rica, including destination manual, video, interactive presentation with group exercises, raffle prizes and a $50 flight credit on any continental U.S. airline.

Benefits: Access to special resources network on Web page; agent call center; free promotional materials; generation of sales leads; income and travel incentives for continued sales; and incentives to pass on to clients such as in-country discounts; five ICTA continuing-education units.

Contact: (800) 398-0518; www.visitcostarica.com

College of Disney Knowledge

Sponsor: The Walt Disney Co.

Eligibility requirements: Open to U.S. and Canadian agents, who must provide IATA, CLIA or ARC number. To qualify as a specialist, agents must pass five exams of 20 questions each and a final exam of 50 questions, taken with open book. The tests are sent in a packet by mail and can be taken at the agent's own pace, either online, by fax or by mail.

Benefits: Graduates earn the designation of Disney Specialist, which they can tell their clients, though they are not authorized to use it on marketing collateral. Completing the course earns 10 ICTA and three Access continuing-education units. Graduates become eligible to enroll in the College of Disney Knowledge Graduate Program.

Contact: (800) 4-MICKEY

Taking the Plunge in Dive Travel

Sponsor: Dive Travel Resource Group

Eligibility requirements: U.S. and Canadian agents can enroll in two dive courses that are offered regionally and soon will be available online. The courses are: Taking the Plunge in Dive Travel and Staying Submerged in Dive Travel. They also will be offered at the Diving Equipment & Marketing Association (DEMA) Conference, to be held Oct. 8 to 11 at the Miami Beach Convention Center.

Benefits: Two free online sales manuals: a dive travel primer; Group Travel Countdown Checklist. Sales manuals on other aspects of selling the dive market are $10 each. Sponsor also offers an online Insiders Report newsletter.

Contact:www.dtrginsidersreport.com

Florida Specialist

Sponsor: Visit Florida, the official marketing corporation for the state.

Eligibility requirements: Full-time U.S. and Canadian agents working 30 hours a week or more are eligible. To qualify, agents must present IATA, ARC or CLIA number. The course requirements include completion of four seminars, two that are posted on the Visit Florida consumer Web site and two based on material sent by mail to the agent by Visit Florida.

Benefits: Graduates earn five ICTA continuing-education units and receive a certificate. Their names are posted on the Web site (www.floridaspecialist.org) as Florida specialists. They receive a quarterly newsletter that tells what's new in deals, fams and attractions and where Visit Florida trainers will be at a given time. Graduates also have an advantage in getting on fam trips.

Contact: Joyce Stillwell at (850) 488-5607 Ext. 338 or e-mail [email protected]. Register online at www.floridaspecialist.org.

Hawaii Destination Specialist

Sponsor: Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau

Eligibility requirements: Order and complete the Ke Kula self-study program, $30 plus $9.95 shipping and handling. CD also available for $35.

Benefits: Consumer leads; continuing-education credits; sales tools to increase bookings; free, personalized Hawaii pre-arrival welcome packets delivered to clients; certificates for free attraction admissions and Hawaii resort stays (but no special requests honored); constant access to proprietary database.

Contact:www.gohawaii.com, then click on Travel Professionals at the bottom of the page.

Holland America Line Academy

Sponsor: Holland America Line (HAL)

Eligibility requirements: The Holland America Academy is open to North American retail travel agents who have either a CLIA or IATA number or a HAL booking number. There are no costs and no productivity requirements. Travel agents who register online at www.halacademy.com are sent a 160-page training workbook and must correctly answer 75% of a 40-question test.

Benefits: HAL Academy agents receive $690 in bonus commission certificates, six continuing education credits from ICTA, a framed diploma, a storefront decal and a "cheat sheet" of cruiser profiles. Agents also are eligible for a fam cruise sweepstakes.

Contact: www.halacademy.com

Hong Kong Specialist

Sponsor: Hong Kong Tourism Bureau (HKTB)

Eligibility requirements: For active U.S. agents. There are two levels of participation: specialist and master specialist. The fee for the online study course is $75, with a 50% discount offered to agents associated with ASTA, Giants, AAA, American Express, Carlson Wagonlit, Leisure Travel Group and Virtuoso.

Benefits: A manual plus Web site referrals; advance updates on new tours and products; invitations to HKTB events; invitations to group study tours; tour operator and hotel discounts; nine ICTA continuing-education units; opportunities to earn ICTA credits for attending HKTB seminars; and a certificate, window decal and membership card.

Master level reserved for agents who meet more stringent criteria, including having booked a minimum of two groups or 50 FIT trips to Hong Kong in a calendar year. Master agents must also have a minimum of five years in the travel industry and belong to two travel-related organizations.

Contact:www.DiscoverHongKong.com/usa

Kenya Authorized Travel Specialist (KATS) and Master KATS

Sponsor: Kenya Tourist Board

Eligibility requirements: Agents must take online training course (occasionally available in a classroom setting) and pass test. Registration is free.

To move on to Master KATS status, agents must complete a seven-day escorted trip to Kenya or prove they have taken such a trip in the previous five years.

Benefits: The Kenya Tourist Board provides promotional kits plus regular updates on product news, marketing opportunities and special offers. It soon will announce a series of KATS fam trips. For the Master KATS program only, the tourist board refers consumers to agents, matching prospects and agents geographically. By becoming KATS sellers, agents can earn up to 10 ICTA continuing-education credits.

Contact: (866) 44-KENYA; www.kenyaagent.com

Kiwi Specialist Program

Sponsor: Tourism New Zealand

Eligibility requirements: Applicants can be travel agents, wholesalers or airline reservationists, who must complete registration form and quiz. Answers to quiz can be found by searching www.newzealand.com. Tourism New Zealand will add training modules at the site this month. Specialists must re-register and update contact information at the end of each calendar year. When the training modules are in place, Tourism New Zealand envisions requiring specialists to complete one module a year in order to keep the designation.

Benefits: Specialists can register their name and contact information at www.newzealand.com to be located by travelers looking for a New Zealand expert.

They will also receive newsletters and e-mails and have access to a special toll-free information line and free collateral materials, such as brochures, postcards, posters and videos, and will be eligible for the Explore New Zealand discount travel program for agents.

Contact: Fax: (310) 395-5453; e-mail: [email protected]

The Marriott Hotel Excellence Program

Sponsor: Marriott International

Eligibility requirements: Open to all agents in the U.S. and Canada, who must complete a one-day training program on the benefits and diversity of Marriott's lodging options.

Benefits: Graduates of the program are eligible to have their agencies become Marriott preferred travel agencies, capable of earning up to 12% commission on bookings. Travel agencies without program graduates earn 8% commission. Graduates also have access to special fam rates, contests, and 10 continuing-education ICTA credits.

Contact: (800) 831-1000 or www.marriott.com/agents

Mexico Expert Program

Sponsor: Mexico Tourism Board

Eligibility requirements: For active U.S. or Canadian agents. Training program consists of half-day, classroom-style seminars focused on selling Mexico to leisure travelers with an emphasis on niche markets.

Seminars are preceded by breakfast and a minitrade show where agents meet with Mexico suppliers.

Agents receive a free, 400-page sales guide that includes information on destinations and hotels, tour operator listings and advice on shopping, dining and sightseeing.

The program cost varies depending on the meal provided but starts at $29. Registration fee for the familiarization trips is $169.

Benefits: Upon completion, agents receive a Mexico Specialist diploma and are invited to take three- to five-night familiarization trips.

Contact:www.mexico-expert.com

The Norwegian Coastal Voyage (NCV) Niche Cruising Partnership Program

Sponsor: Norwegian Coastal Voyage

Eligibility requirements: Must be IATA- or CLIA-certified; must complete free training program and correctly answer 20 out of 25 questions on a certification test.

Benefits: Eligibility for three $50 bonus commission coupons per year that can be used for bookings on NCV escorted vacations, independent vacations or expedition voyages; personalized certificate; 50% off published rate for specialists and special companion fare on fam trips.

Contact: (800) 323-7436, Ext. 408

Orlando Star Fams

Sponsor: Orlando/Orange County Convention and Visitors Bureau

Eligibility requirements: Entrants must be full-time travel agents with IATA, CLIA or ARC affiliations.

To complete the course, agents participate in the Orlando Star Fams (the next one is Sept. 16 to 21).

During the fam, candidates must spend 18 hours in educational activities, including presentations of Universal Studios Orlando, Disney World, Sea World and two other attractions as well as presentations of hoteliers.

Registration fee for the fam is $195.

Benefits: Agents who complete the course earn four ICTA units, gain first-hand knowledge of the destination and receive educational and reference materials.

Contact: (407) 363-5842

Puerto Rico Travel Expert

Sponsor: Puerto Rico Tourism Co. (PRTC)

Eligibility requirements: Agents must attend seminar, take six-night trip to Puerto Rico and pass written test. Trip includes seminar, trade show, study materials and sightseeing.

The cost of the trip is $149; the price does not include air fare.

Agents can obtain additional certification through continuing education specialty courses on diving; golf; pre- and post-cruise stays; nature and adventure; paradores of Puerto Rico; art and culture; and conventions and incentives.

The four-night study tour is priced at $99 per agent; air fare is not included.

Benefits: 12 ICTA continuing-education credits, discounted prices on the Le Lo Lai Festival package, promotional mailings, invitations to PRTC regional activities, support from PRTC regional offices and framed certificate.

Contact:www.gotopuertorico.com/travelagent

Sandals Certified Specialists

Sponsor: Sandals and Beaches Resorts

Eligibility requirements: Agents must complete free, day-long workshop offered every week in various U.S. cities; must agree to use Sandals' selling tools and to partner with Sandals and Beaches.

Benefits: Co-op marketing and advertising; participation in bridal shows; exposure on the Wedding Channel; listings on the Sandals and Beaches Web sites; and use of special logo on agency stationery, business cards and office displays. In addition, an agency-referral program matches prospects and agents geographically.

Contact:www.sandals.com

Shamrock Club

Sponsor: Tourism Ireland

Eligibility requirements: Qualified agents must register at www.shamrockclub.net/register and complete five online educational modules.

Benefits: Basic graduate benefits available at no charge, including certificate, 10 ICTA credits, an "E-Postcard" tool for e-mail marketing, helpline access and invitation to annual Irish fam trip.

Optional $99 program offers listings at www.tourismireland.com, lead referrals and free promotional materials including letterhead and postcards.

Contact: www.shamrockclub.net/register or call John Daly at (212) 418-0835.

South Africa Tourism Expert Course (Fundi)

Sponsor: South African Tourism

Eligibility requirements: Candidates must complete eight-module training course and pass (with at least an 80% score) small quizzes after the first seven modules and a final exam after the eighth. To keep the specialist designation, agents must pay an annual $20 fee and take an annual refresher exam.

Benefits: Photos and relevant details about each certificate holder will go up on the consumer Web site at www.southafrica.net. Also planned are referrals, fam trips and other exclusive incentives as well as promotional materials, newsletters and other information updates. ICTA said the program is expected to be certified for ICTA credits by the end of this month. Specialists -- who also are called Fundis -- will become members of the Fundi Club.

Contact: Johann Venter, Fundi manager, at (011) 27-11 778-8138; fax (011) 27-11 778-8094; e-mail: [email protected]; Internet: www.southafrica.net

Spain Specialist Program

Sponsor: Tourist Office of Spain/Tourism Institute of Spain

Eligibility requirements: IATA agencies only. Fees include initial $95 for written course and $395 for obligatory educational fam trip.

Benefits: Include 10 ICTA credits for passing the course and five additional credits upon completing the fam trip; newsletter subscription; access to a dedicated toll-free number; listing at www.okspain.org; and invitations to special events.

Contact: Call (877) 465-2777, fax (305) 358-8223, visit www.okspain.org/ssprogram/program.asp or write to: Spain Specialist Program, Box 310667, Miami, Fla., 33231.

St. Petersburg-Clearwater Destination Specialist course

Sponsor: St. Petersburg/Clearwater (Fla.) Area CVB

Eligibility requirements: Must be agent with IATA, ARC or CLIA number. To qualify, agents take test on material posted on the CVB's Web site (log onto www.floridasbeach.com and click on the Tour & Travel Department). The test asks questions based on information found on the site, including the visitors' guide and sections about beaches, Tarpon Springs, bed-and-breakfasts and arts and culture. Agents can download the test from the site or ask to receive it by mail. A timed version can also be taken on the ICTA Web site at www.icta.com.

Benefits: Agents who complete the course receive four ICTA continuing-education units, a framed certificate and a wall clock.

They are invited to attend a training trip to the destination.

Contact: Nancy Foster at (727) 464-7237 or Cindy Clydesdale at (727) 464-7462

Switzerland Network Specialist

Sponsor: Switzerland Tourism

Eligibility requirements: For ARC- and IATA-accredited agents only.

Candidates must study and pass online certification course and exam, and pay enrollment fee of $95 ($125 for Canadian agents). Free membership renewal for agents reporting at least 10 overnight trips to Switzerland annually; otherwise, renewal costs $60.

Benefits: Graduates earn 10 ICTA credits upon graduation and another six after taking familiarization trip. They also gain access to dedicated Web site and toll-free numbers, consumer leads, promotional materials, workshops and seminars. Other benefits are a program ID card, one eight-day SwissPass rail pass each year, and Web site listing.

Contact:www.myswitzerland.com/na/trade or Noelle Tscherrig at (212) 757-5944, Ext. 231

Tassie Specialist Program

Sponsor: Australian Tourism Commission and Tourism Tasmania

Eligibility requirements: Continuing education module for agents who are already Aussie Specialists. The learning module costs $24.95; to earn the certification, agents have to complete the self-administered training program and finish the certification quiz with a score of at least 90%.

Benefits: Tassie Specialists are offered fam trips at least twice a year, receive marketing aids specific to the destination and receive a monthly newsletter with product updates, marketing ideas and special offers. They also earn two ICTA credits.

Contact: (800) 388-4662; fax: (310) 286-9553

Tauck World Discovery Sales & MArketing Symposium

Sponsor: Tauck World Discovery

Eligibility requirements: Open only to owners, managers and some top-selling agents, subject to a qualification process and availability. Participants have to sign an agreement that they will submit a marketing plan with realistic goals within 30 days of the symposium.

Benefits: Those who complete the program and submit their marketing plans become members of the Tauck Symposium Alumni Circle, which entitles them to enhanced sales and marketing support and preferred brochure mailing status.

Contact: Request an application by e-mailing [email protected]

Universal Parks & Resorts Vacation Specialist Program

Sponsor: Universal Parks & Resorts

Eligibility requirements: Any interested travel agent is eligible. Agents can call or log on to the Web site at www.universaltravelagents.com and study the presentation of information on both Universal Orlando Resort and Universal Studios Hollywood. To qualify, agents must take a 50-question test and pass with 30 or more answers correct. To complete the training, agents are required to visit the destination. Special agent packages are available for that purpose.

Benefits: Those who pass receive a certificate that states they are a Universal Parks & Resorts vacation specialist.

Contact: Call (407) 224-6448 or log onto www.universaltravelagents.com and click on Universal Specialist Program

Sponsors to agents: You're sooo special

ravel Weekly spoke with Marc Mancini, the travel industry educator who has designed a number of training programs that help agents become specialists in destinations or travel products.

TW: Why are these programs important?

Mancini: Clients want an informed, motivated seller of a destination or travel product.

They want agents who understand what they're selling and present products accurately and thoroughly.

TW: How do the programs help agents?

Mancini: Agents who take this kind of training become missionaries for a place or a product. Their passion to sell comes from their conviction that this place or this product is superior to all others.

Completing these programs also gives agents the affirmation many of them need that they are being recognized for what they know.

TW: What's the advantage for the program sponsors?

Mancini: They're investing in the belief that the person who takes the training will sell the product more aggressively. Once the training is completed, the supplier can measure the agent's productivity and continue to reward it. One sponsor has found that 68% of its sales now come from graduates of its program.

TW: Are many agents participating in these programs?

Mancini: Only about 20% of all agents are really gung-ho for training. There are many who have completed more than one program. But 80% of agents take very little advantage of these training opportunities.

What most agents don't realize is that the training isn't just about a specific destination or product. It includes a lot of valuable training on how to sell anything.

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