As the industry takes on the challenge of recruiting and training the next generation of agents, it’s little wonder that mentorship programs are proliferating among travel agencies and industry organizations.
But while such programs have proven to be effective, experts caution that they can also die on the vine without plenty of commitment from both sides. Here are some tips for ensuring that programs work for mentors and mentees alike.
1. Qualify the candidate.
Not everyone has what it takes to be a successful travel agent and the industry has been known to attract applicants who are primarily seeking travel benefits, not a business career.
For these reasons, agencies need to carefully qualify potential candidates before they commit their resources toward mentorship and training, said Betsy Geiser, CTA, executive vice president of Uniglobe Travel Center, which offers a six-month program called UTC Mentor U.
“When we consider new agents, we really qualify them, including running background checks,” she said. “We also try to evaluate whether or not they have the right potential – do they have a sales’ personality, are they detail-oriented, do they know how to listen?”
2. Keep mentees engaged and motivated.
It’s easy for new agents, especially if they are adjusting to working alone in a home office and business is slow getting off the ground, to become discouraged. Because of this, a successful mentorship requires “a lot of motivation,” Geiser said.
“We constantly reach out to our mentees to keep them engaged – the more hands-on you can be with people who are new, the better,” she said. “It’s also important to let them know that it takes time to build up a business. Even the most successful travel professionals start out slow."
3. Put in the time required.
The number-one reason that mentorships fail is that there is not enough of a time commitment on both sides, according to Penney Rudicil, president of Travel Agent Success, a training company launching the Agent 2 Agent Mentoring Program next month.
“It’s best not to enter into a mentorship relationship if you really don’t have the time for it,” she said. “We suggest a minimum of 15-to-30 minutes of phone conversation per week, plus on-going emails. How did your week go? What are your goals? Both sides need to make the time.”
4. Be open to new ideas.
When it comes to learning, mentorship is a two-way street. While the new agent gets a chance to learn the business from a pro, the mentor has the chance to get a new perspective from someone outside the industry.
“New people come in with new and exciting ideas about how to do things,” Rudicil said. “This can really benefit those of us who have been in the industry a long while and have gotten into our own groove. So mentors have something to gain from the relationship as well.”
5. Make sure it’s a good match.
Just matching up an experienced agent with a newcomer is not enough – the mentor should also be knowledgeable about the type of travel that the mentee wants to focus on.
“If the new agent wants to develop adventure travel as a niche, then obviously a mentor whose background is corporate travel is not a good fit,” said Rudicil. “The mentee needs to determine what their goals are and where their passion lies. The mentor needs to be in sync with that.”
6. It takes a village.
A mentorship program need not be limited to one mentor per agent. For example, Uniglobe’s mentorship program provides two “coaches” to address different aspects of the travel agency business, Geiser said.
“One coach handles the practical aspects of the business – how to set up your office, how to put a business plan together, how to market your services,” she said. “The other works with them on the technology side – how to use our tools, supplier tools, how to work with hotel programs, how to book cruises on a cruise platform, what industry resources are available.”
A successful mentorship should involve even more input, according to Geiser. “We have mentors throughout our network that new agents can talk to, plus some of your supplier reps act as mentors as well – not just talking about their products but about the industry.”
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