After years of industry hand-wringing over the graying of travel agents, young travel professionals are taking it upon themselves to recruit more of their own into an industry that one young organizer recently called “sexy.”
In recent months, young travel professionals have formed a handful of industry groups — significantly, none exclusively for travel agents. They hold virtual as well as actual cocktail parties. They communicate as much by Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn as by email.
And when they hold an event, be it a website launch party or a regularly scheduled monthly meet-up, the venue is packed.
Their goal is to spread the word about travel careers to a generation that grew up in an online world.
“I never knew anyone who used a travel agent,” said Karen Magee, 26, a member of the board of New York-based Young Travel Professionals and manager of hotel sales and marketing for Ultramar Travel Management in lower Manhattan.
At present, three distinct groups have been formed, though at the 30,000-foot level, they have similar goals: Each is targeting young travel professionals, and each wants to attract new, young talent to a “fun, exciting, sexy industry,” in Magee’s words.
And they’re getting a response.
California-based Millennials in Travel budgeted for 60 people to attend their launch party in Los Angeles last month and attracted more than 100, said Joshua Smith, Millennials’ director of strategic development and independent journeys manager for Travcoa.
Before the group even held the event, he got email queries from peers in Miami and Chicago interested in starting their own chapters.
“I think it’s great,” 36-year-old Ryan McGredy, president of ASTA’s Young Professionals Society (YPS) and president of Moraga Travel in Moraga, Calif., said of the mushrooming number of groups for young people in the travel industry. “It means that there are enough of us out there now to have some different ideas about how these groups can run.”
Most of the differences between the groups lie in their membership requirements and focus.
ASTA’s youth chapter
ASTA’s YPS, the most senior of the three groups, celebrated its 10th anniversary last year. But in the past year, it has undergone some radical changes.
Last summer, it morphed from committee status to a full-fledged chapter, becoming ASTA’s first chapter to not be based on geography.
“We were coming up with events, fund-raising, doing all the things that a chapter board does but without the power of a chapter,” McGredy said.
A classic example of a young travel pro, McGredy came to travel from the tech industry, finding travel, fun, interesting, challenging and lucrative.
“It’s a great business to be in,” he said. “You can make a lot of money doing it.”
Getting the word out that being a travel agent is an attractive career is one big goal, he said, as are training and networking.
Joining forces is important, he said.
“We can benefit from each other, and not just networking-wise,” McGredy said. “We are such a heavily regulated industry [that] it’s important for us to start understanding advocacy.”
Noting that federal, state, county and local governments all regulate travel, he said, “It can affect us, from making our jobs harder to raising our costs of doing business to cutting our margins.”
For example, he pointed to sequestration as a federal budget issue that could have a constraining impact on travel. A Members-Only Day in Washington last November saw YPS members going around the capital to talk to high-ranking staffers of their representatives on Capitol Hill and meeting with legislative analysts.
“People came out saying, ‘Wow, I didn’t even know that you could do this, that people care about what you say,’” McGredy recalled recently.
At the same time, YPS is addressing a gap that McGredy saw when he first entered the travel business, between the old guard’s way of doing business and young turks coming in and reinventing the wheel.
He wanted to find a way for young industry entrants to connect with their peers and also connect with the legacy of the travel industry, and he sees YPS as a way to accomplish that.
Senior members of ASTA last year voiced strong support for YPS’ efforts to become a full-fledged chapter.
Because YPS is part of ASTA, it is focused on agents, but it is not limited to agents. McGredy stressed that suppliers are just as active in the group.
Membership in YPS is currently about 400, but it changes as new members enter and as older members “age out” at 40. The only limitation on suppliers is that they cannot attend the group’s retreats, which YPS calls its “fams.” That’s because retreat sponsors want agents who will sell their destination or product on these trips.
The group says it plans to play a larger role at ASTA’s Travel Retailing and Destination Expo in Miami in September.
Young Travel Professionals
Magee said that Young Travel Professionals, a group based in New York, has three goals.
The first is relationship building. To that end, the group holds monthly events at hotels or bars as well as special events such as their website launch party in February. It has 800 members and averages about 100 attendees at its monthly get-togethers.
The second goal is career development, helping people network to find new jobs. It also encourages members to post new jobs on its Facebook and LinkedIn pages.
Allison Davis, 24, social media manager for YTP and social media coordinator of marketing for Ultramar Travel Management, said she got a job thanks to one such posting, and her involvement in YTP is attractive to employers because she’s connected to a talent pool of young people enthusiastic about the industry.
The third goal is to bring new blood to the industry. Magee said that event attendees include people from other fields such as finance and media. The group is planning a mentoring program and ultimately plans to expand to other cities.
YTP is hospitality-focused but defines hospitality very broadly. Its members include hotels, restaurants, meetings and event planners, airlines, other transportation providers, operators, agencies, online travel agencies and deal sites such as Jetsetter. It has no age requirements.
Millennials in Travel
The main goal of Millennials in Travel is career development, Smith said. It is looking at a mentorship program that pairs young professionals with one or two years in the industry with more experienced, five- or 10-year veterans.
Millennials is targeting colleges and universities to show students the value of a travel career. It’s creating a jobs board and has already seen one person change careers thanks to one such posting. Its membership is open to those born between 1979 and 2000.
“That is the millennial generation,” said Smith, who adds this group is differentiated from previous generations by the acceleration of technology and by the rise of a global economy.
It will hold elections to its board every two years and has an advisory board of high-level executives who are guiding the group.
Millennials is headquartered in Los Angeles, but the group plans to expand into Washington and Atlanta this year and into New York, Miami, Chicago, Denver and Dallas in 2014.
Its members include travel agents, suppliers, destinations, marketing rep companies and media. Because of its Los Angeles roots, the group is attracting members from companies such as HBO and Paramount, which Smith said are a part of the travel industry, though a different sector of it.
He added that Millennials is open to alliances.
LAN Airlines was a sponsor of its February launch event, giving away two roundtrip tickets.
Smith said the group’s core values were a passionate commitment to the travel industry, behaving professionally in both social and work environments, a strong belief in the potential of travel and a desire to help drive tourism on a global level.
Follow Kate Rice on Twitter @krtravelweekly.