Newcomers interested in learning the basics—and more experienced travel agents looking to take their business to the next level—will both find resources geared for them at Lisa Sheldon’s new Travel Designers Academy.
Introductory education as well as mentorship are the focus of the new programs launched by Sheldon, CTC, owner of Janesville, Wisc.-based I Do Island Weddings and executive director of the Designation Wedding & Honeymoon Specialist Association (DWHS).
Inspired by association role
While the Academy is not affiliated with DWHSA, Sheldon said her role with the association inspired her to develop the new training and mentorship services.
“There are over 800 members in the group comprised of agents who are just starting out as well as those who have been selling travel for awhile,” she said.
“All too often I see common problems such as not knowing how to close a sale or put together the tools that will bring the results they need. It’s sad when someone gets frustrated and gives up.”
The training is not limited to agents specializing in romance travel or weddings, she added. “During my 28 years in the industry, I’ve sold it all—corporate, leisure, family vacations. Good sales training is applicable to any type of travel.”
Personal support and training
Sheldon conducts most of the training herself, primarily through telephone, Skype and email communications. She also has a team of partners to call on for assistance in such specialized areas as branding and social media.
“I think there’s a real need out there for customized, one-on-one training, which is what I provide,” she said. “A lot of agents are working in remote locations and feel isolated. It’s good to have some personal support.”
For the Introduction to Travel program, Sheldon is reaching out to individuals as well as to agency owners who want to offer training to their new hires or independent contractors.
“I talk to a lot of agency owners who want to bring in new contractors, but find they are too busy to train them,” she said.
The introductory program, which runs from 12 to 16 weeks long depending on the topics are covered, employs course materials from The Travel Institute, but also includes customized training based on what the agent or agency owner wants included.
“A lot of new agents don’t realize how complex the travel business is,” Sheldon said. “It’s not just about booking things online, but knowing about products like E&O insurance and everything else that goes into running a business.”
Sheldon will also provide support for participants who have questions after the program is completed.
“This is not just about taking a test and getting a certificate,” she said. “I’m a resource. There’s an ongoing relationship.”
For more experienced agents, Kick Start Your Business is a six-week mentoring program designed to be taken by one or two agents at a time. Participants can choose the areas in which they most need help, whether it’s closing sales, branding, social media or logistics within a specialized niche such as weddings.
“We start with an initial consultation to find out if we’re a good fit with each other,” Sheldon said. “If we proceed, we work on the topics of their choice, with goals and plans set for each of these.”
Once the six weeks are up, participants have another two months in which to receive follow-up assistance, with access to Sheldon during weekly phone calls.
Sheldon is also offering customized training for agents or agency owners who want to blend the introductory business basics with the more advanced sales training covered by mentorship program.
Psychology of selling
A major reason that even experienced agents need mentorship and sales training involves the challenge of dealing with today’s highly informed consumers, according to Sheldon.
“We are constantly being asked by clients to match the prices they’ve found online,” she said. “You have to get past the mindset of doing business this way.
“You need to deal with the psychology of selling. We have to educate the client on the value of the agent and the value of what they are purchasing.”