Travel agencies that struggle to attract young talent at a time when college graduates are desperate for jobs have no one to blame but themselves for the industry’s lack of exposure to likely candidates.
“In the time I've been working at a university, there's been zero demand from travel agents,” said Kathryn Finamore, director of the College of Hospitality and Tourism Management at Niagara University.
Finamore spoke on a panel titled “How Do We Find Young Professionals” at American Marketing Group's TravelMarket 2012 in Scottsdale, Ariz., last week.
Two hospitality students on the panel told the audience of travel sellers that they had never even considered the travel agency profession.
“I hadn't thought about travel agencies because I didn't think it was still a popular field but, seeing all of you here, it is,” said Catherine Trazka, a hospitality student at Niagara University.
Failure to collaborate
Finamore cited a failure of collaboration between educators and agents as the cause for a lack of student interest. “Sometimes I do post positions for travel agents, but I don't tend to get the same number of responses for it [as for other opportunities].
“There has to be more of an educational component. That falls on us the educators – and you the travel agent – to educate them and pique their interest a little bit. We always welcome campus visits,” she told agents.
The hospitality students on the panel also discussed what travel sellers can do to attract young people to the industry.
“The initial presentation needs to show me I have the opportunity to grow and continue learning,” said Trazka. “I want to learn something new every day and create a job that I love.”
Money isn’t everything
Starting salary is less important than the ability to earn commissions and develop relationships with clients, the student panelists said.
“Especially in this job market and economy, students know they're not going to get higher salaries,” said Kira Anderson, a hospitality student at Arizona State University who works the front desk at The Phoenician Resort.
“A student is willing to take a position with a lower salary if you can show them that if they work harder, they make more.”
Internships & mentors needed
Agents should consider offering internships to college students, since young professionals are looking to gather as much work experience as possible before hitting the tough job market, panelists said.
“Students would jump at the opportunity,” said Anderson. “The opportunity to learn while in school is invaluable.”
Mentoring students is another way to draw in young talent. “If I had a mentor in the tourism industry, keeping in contact with me and writing me (about) opportunities out there, I'd be reassured that by the time I graduate there will be something out there I want to do,” said Trazka.
Publicize job offerings
The students suggested partnering with university career services organizations to publicize job offerings, as well as reaching out to students on LinkedIn and Facebook.
“It's very much about making sure young people know the positions are available,” said Trazka. “Until yesterday, I didn't even know these positions existed.”
Get more involved
Travel agents need to be more aggressive in seeking out students for internships and entry-level positions, said Finamore.
“I see a ton of students interested in the field and it's a growing industry. By putting agencies in front of students, it will create demand for these positions that do exist.”
Consider developing programs that give prospective interns an understanding of what they would learn over time, advised Finamore.
“Students love the idea of working in a structured environment. If you can create an internship to learn about the industry and grow as a student in the industry, they would really enjoy that,” she said, citing hotel management training programs as a model.
Agencies should look for students with an entrepreneurial mindset who can add value to their operations, Finamore suggested.
“It sounds like if you have that entrepreneurial spirit and that drive to make money and grow your business, the sky's the limit. There aren’t too many other segments of tourism and hospitality that have that,” she said.
“For interns, it's really about drawing out that entrepreneurial spirit, finding out more about business opportunities and learning what (agents) do with customers.”
Panel moderator Anne Marie Moebes, executive vice president of Acclaim Meetings, told the audience that American Marketing Group is working to bridge the gap between students and travel agencies.
Initiatives will include facilitating student internships via the TRAVELSAVERS and NEST extranet and working with colleges and universities to create curricula for classes on travel marketing and selling.
“We’re going to try to be the connector,” Moebes said.