Valerie Wilson Takes a Multi-Pronged Approach To Nurturing Good Travel Agentsby Cheryl Rosen /
With the economy expanding rapidly and travel booming, travel agencies just can’t find enough good people these days. So Valerie Wilson Travel has taken a multi-pronged approach to hiring and training that includes internships, in-house trainings and mentoring programs.
“We do a lot of Lunch and Learns,” Dan Beschloss, executive director of industry relations for the New York-based agency, told TMR, “and presentations by suppliers that come in four forms: walk-arounds from desk to desk; meet and greets, where the supplier sits in a conference room and travel advisors come in as they have time; open-house lunches where everyone is invited; and formal lunch seminars about a destination.”
The seminars are not by a specific hotel, but rather hosted by a tour operator or DMC invited in to talk about a destination as a whole. One recent one, for example, featured a 30-minute presentation by Abercrombie & Kent on Brazil.
And then of course there are fam trips. Beschloss himself tries to escort Valerie Wilson Travel agents on two or three of those a year; the company hosts about a dozen a year, with six to eight agents on each one.
After many internal discussions about how to attract young people right out of college, Valerie Wilson also has instituted internship and externship programs to draw in new young employees and a mentoring program to help new ones get acclimated. College students — including a large contingent from Bucknell, where Kimberly Wilson Wetty went to school – work during summers and school breaks and are attached to a single department, usually leisure travel. The goal is for them to come back and become leisure travel advisors when they graduate.
Perhaps the biggest need is for agents in meetings and events, a big growth area for Valerie Wilson this year. The heading “special events” includes many hot niches, including multigenerational travel and destination weddings, and “they are over-the-top busy,” Beschloss said.
Moving across the table: Working with suppliers
In addition to creating educational trips for Valerie Wilson employees, Beschloss nowadays also is involved in growing relationships with the agency’s suppliers. And that begins just the way a relationship between and travel advisor and a client begins: with a one-on-one conversation.
While your product is important, focus on getting to know your travel advisor on a personal level, he advises suppliers. If you develop a strong relationship, they will find a way to provide you with business.
“When I meet a supplier for the first time, I just want to talk, to hear where they worked before, what they like to do,” he said. But eventually he will be looking for partners who are willing to get creative with value-adds, to provide things like free breakfasts and room upgrades that are guaranteed at the point of sale, to help provide unique access to experiences.
In Santiago recently, for example, a supplier offered an example of a trip for art lovers by taking Beschloss and his group to the workplace of an artist for a wine and cheese reception, then to the home of an art dealer who prepared a meal for them.
A food lover himself, Beschloss said that when he travels, he asks the concierge of the hotel not for a recommendation but for the name of the restaurant where he himself takes his family to eat.
The key to good food is to “find a restaurant where the menu has no English,” he said.