Jani Miller has strong words for travel sellers who say they don’t have the time or money to further their education or take familiarization trips: if you don’t make education a priority, don’t expect to be around for long.
“You’ve got to brush up on your skill sets all the time,” said Miller, a longtime industry leader and president and CEO of Central Travel, which operates nine Ohio storefronts.
“There should be a training and development budget in any organization,” Miller told Travel Market Report. “Providing a professional experience to our customers has to reside on training and development.”
Making the investment
Miller puts her money where her mouth is. Central Travel gives all of its 40 travel sellers time and money to invest in their education. Most years, most Central Travel agents receive six paid days for training purposes and $1,000 for familiarization trips.
Although Central Travel was forced to reduce training dollars and days in the last year or so, for 2012 the company has reinstated its FAM Dollars and Days Policy.
Even when the company has been forced to cut back on its training budget, individual agents have found ways to take courses and go on fam trips, including using their vacation time.
“If people are in the industry and if they want to continue to grow and learn, they’ll go ahead and put some of their own resources into it,” Miller said.
Individual training goals
Miller herself has a CTC (Certified Travel Counselor) designation from The Travel Institute, the industry’s non-profit educational organization. She has also taken two Lifestyle Specialist (LS) and two Destination Specialist (DS) courses from The Travel Institute, and completed ASTA’s Travel Management Academy program and numerous supplier-sponsored training programs.
While a CTC is not required of all agents at Central Travel, any who hope to become managers must complete The Travel Institute’s CTC program. For other agents, the education requirements vary depending on their needs and specialties.
“We sit down with our people annually. We have what we call a Personal Performance and Appraisal System where each agent sets their own objectives and goals. Destination training and basic sales training will be among their individual objectives for that year.”
Business courses a must
While destination and product training are essential, sales classes are most important, Miller said. “Sales, sales, sales. If you don’t have those basic sales skills, it doesn’t really matter what your product knowledge is.”
Miller called on suppliers to expand their sales training. “If a supplier can do anything for this industry it’s provide more sales training. We can never have enough.”
One business skills course that has been particularly helpful for agents has been a basic ToastMasters course. “It’s so good. It improves all of your communication skills.”
Supplier sales courses
Supplier courses are a boon for travel agents, Miller said. “You want to go to the best source.” For instance, every year Central Travel sends at least one or two people per storefront to MLT Vacations’ MLT University.
Suppliers are almost always willing to offer webinars or in-office training, she noted.
Central Travel also takes advantage of courses offered by The Travel Institute, ASTA, and other third-party education providers.
Miller advised agents to be wary of specialist programs that claim to instill expertise via a 15-minute course. Some specialty programs are better than others, she said. “You really don’t want to waste your time taking quick-hit classes.”
One way to ensure that agents continually educate themselves is to encourage specialization, which requires agents to stay up-to-date with their specialty, whether that is a destination or a type of travel, Miller said.
“We strongly support specialization. If something is their specialty, they have to go at least yearly, if not twice a year, to develop that specialty, see the destination and the new resorts.”
Specialization and expertise are also critical to Central Travel’s marketing. “We never sell by price. We sell by expertise, in every avenue. If you go to our website, we toot our horn about our specialists and that’s why you would do business with us.”