Mentoring programs, including those designed for agency industry newcomers and seasoned agents seeking a new career focus, are one of the hottest trends in the travel agency world these days.
Just within the past year or so, several mentoring programs have been launched by agency groups, training companies and professional organizations, including include ASTA, Young Travel Professionals, Nexion, Uniglobe Travel Center and Travel Agent Success Inc.
(See Young Travel Professionals Launch Mentor Program)
Why so many now? One key reason is the industry’s need to draw in and retain a new generation of agents.
Another factor is the growing competition among host agencies and, with it, increased pressure to attract and retain top talent, according to Penney Rudicil, owner of the training company Travel Agent Success, Inc., which is launching a mentorship program called Agent 2 Agent next month.
“Agents who are new to the industry are really looking for guidance from their host agency,” said Rudicil, who plans to market her new program, which uses proprietary software to match up mentors and mentees, to host agencies as well as to individual agents.
“A mentoring program definitely makes the host agency more attractive. People will change host agencies for that,” Rudicil said.
Among host agencies that are putting more resources into mentorship is Uniglobe Travel Center, which launched a six-month program called UTC Mentor U about a year ago.
“The competition between host agencies was definitely a factor in starting the program – and we feel it is in everyone’s interest to attract new blood to the industry,” said Betsy Geiser, executive vice president of Uniglobe. “We were unable to take on inexperienced agents because we didn’t have the resources for training them,” she added.
Also driving the increase in mentorship programs is the fact that today many agents work alone at home rather than in a traditional office where colleagues often fill a mentorship role, Rudicil said.
“Agents are feeling very much on their own and want someone to connect with,” she said. “While there a lot of great social media groups out there where you can get a lot of opinions, sometimes it’s important to have deeper input from one person.”
Geiser agreed. New agents have plenty of access to books and online training, but hands-on learning is much harder to find in today’s agency environment, she said.
“We saw there was a need to provide new agents with hands-on training, the kind that agents used to get when they went to work at brick and mortar agencies,” she said. “You can read a book and pass a test, but what you really need is help with practical application.”
But guidance in the logistics of selling travel is not the overriding goal of Uniglobe’s mentoring program. Its most important function is to help participants learn to build their business, Geiser said.
“Some new agents think this will be easy and they are surprised at how hard it can be,” she said. “They think their friends and family will come to them, but these can be your most difficult clients.”
Mentoring for experienced agents
Experienced agents looking to find a new niche are also seeking out mentors, Rudicil said.
“When you decide to embark on a new specialty, it can almost be like starting over,” she said. “You may be experienced with groups, but that doesn’t mean you can do a destination wedding. It’s great if you find someone in that niche who can guide you through the process.”
The fast-changing nature of travel agency business is also making mentorships important, including for experienced agents facing reduced revenue, according to Rudicil.
“Commissions are being cut daily, so to be successful you often have to find new ways of making money, whether it’s by learning to sell new products or about new ways to operate such as charging fees,” she said. “It can be like learning a whole new trade.”
Next time: Tips for making mentoring work
Young Travel Professionals Launch Mentor Program