Starting Out: How Three Young Travel Agents Learned The Businessby Marilee Crocker /
Training new agents is a thorny challenge in retail travel, especially for smaller agencies with limited resources. In this environment, new agents who want to succeed need to be consummate self-starters, fully prepared to chart and pursue their own professional development.
Travel Market Report asked three young self-starters about their early training and their professional development goals for the year ahead. What’s helped them advance their knowledge and skills so far? What skills and expertise do they hope to acquire in 2017? What are their business goals? Here’s what we learned.
Codie Richards: ‘There’s no outline’
When Codie Richards landed a job at Elm Grove Travel in May 2014, she had a degree in English literature, experience as a paralegal and an interest in travel. But she knew next to nothing about the business of sellinig travel.
Richards, who was 23 at the time, soon discovered that “there’s no exact outline of how to learn to be a travel agent” and that “a lot of agencies do things differently.” As she put it: “It’s not, ‘Here’s how you do things.’ It’s, ‘There’s a 100 ways to do it; find what works for you.’”
So she watched her veteran co-workers at the storefront agency in Elm Grove, WI. “There was a lot of observing and learning on my own. I learned a ton from the other agents in the office.”
She also began taking advantage of the abundance of supplier webinars and trainings available online and through her agency’s consortium and attending supplier dinners and trade shows in her area.
This too had its challenges, she found. “You don’t know exactly what you need. It’s a lot of finding things on your own.”
In the coming year, Richards plans to concentrate her professional development on destination weddings and groups. “There’s a huge demand for destinations weddings, and I find I enjoy planning those.”
She wants to learn more about various types of groups––not just wedding groups, but corporate groups, incentive groups, multigenerational families, etc.––so she can become an expert in each. “I want to be that go-to person, so I’m not always having to look things up. I want to be that resource for them right away.”
Here too, she’ll use self-study. “I have a lot of groups right now. I want to take apart each group right after a trip and reflect on how it went, see what worked and what didn’t and learn from that.”
She’ll also continue to take advantage of fam trip opportunities. “Going on trips has changed the way I do everything,” she said.
Richards also hopes to improve her work processes this year by learning “the best way to go about doing things at our agency.” She said her colleagues teach her “a ton” in this regard. But the learning goes both ways. “I love to bring in a new idea or way of doing things.”
Liz Detmold: Leaning on a mentor
The newest of our industry newcomers, 31-year-old Liz Detmold has only been selling travel since October 2015, when she started as an independent contractor for Travel Masters.
But she wasn’t entirely green at the outset. Before she got into the business, Detmold was already engaged in something of a self-study program. “Sometimes I’d plan trips just for fun when we weren’t even going anywhere,” she said. In doing so, she taught herself a lot about how the travel industry works.
Now she sells travel out of her home office in Calgary, Alberta, maintaining a part-time job on the side while she builds up her business.
Since her official start, Detmold’s training has been largely “learn as you go.” A nearby Travel Masters agent has taken her under her wing and taught her the ropes; “after that I’ve done a lot of the training that different hotels and resorts offer to educate myself.”
Detmold’s goal for 2017 is to expand into selling escorted tours and river cruises. “It’s been easy to focus on all-inclusive vacation packages. But my passion is seeing the world, not just a resort. I want to focus on things that really get you into the culture and seeing places most people don’t see.”
She also figures that moving into escorted travel will help her expand beyond the “families looking for budget holidays” who frequently book all-inclusives, and into selling high-end travel to higher-income customers.
To make it happen, Detmold plans to work with the Travel Masters support team “to pinpoint the training I need, then go in with each of the individual companies to learn all about their products.
The training from tour providers is exactly what I need to talk about what they offer and why clients should book with them,” she said.
Brittany Bartelt: Honing her soft skills
When Brittany Bartelt landed a job as a receptionist at Ambassador Travel Ltd. in early 2015, she had no training or background in travel, other than her own love for travel.
“Everything I’ve learned, I’ve learned here,” said Bartelt, 26, now a travel consultant at Ambassador, a storefront agency in Oshkosh, WI. Starting out as a receptionist was a great way to learn the business, she said, because “you see how it works on all levels.”