Even with travel largely absent in 2020, that doesn’t mean that travel advisors were. With bookings down and time on their hands, advisors opted to improve themselves during the pandemic pause
Speaking to TMR this week, the Travel Institute (TI) president Diane Petras said that the TI saw the biggest enrollment in its history during the pandemic. In fact, the TI doubled its enrollment in the first half of 2020, a major achievement and a major trend for the
“From my point of view this speaks to the grit and determination of travel agents,” Diane Petras, president of the Travel Institute, told TMR. “Travel agents didn’t curl up in a ball and die. They said, ‘this is bad, I have time on my hands, and what am I going to do with it?’”
According to Petras, most of the enrollments were “newer to the industry,” advisors with less than 12 months of experience. It was people who were starting their home-based businesses or new to working for a brick-and-mortar.
Those advisors flocked to courses that would earn them certification, with a large percentage opting into the Certified Travel Associate (CTA) certification. In fact, currently, the TI is experiencing a larger pool of graduates than ever before.
For Petras and the TI, that just proved that the biggest hurdle for advisors to get over when it comes to furthering their education and certification is time.
And while 2020 proved devastating for most businesses, it did finally give advisors some extra time.
“It just proves that our biggest competitor is time. Advisors have to have the time. That’s why we try to give them all the tools they need to have to finish their training,” she added.
Petras said she saw that same trend post-9/11 as consumers pulled back on bookings and advisors took time to improve themselves as they waited on bookings to rebound.
Outside of the CTA certification, wellness training courses also trended for the TI—“after the year of 2020 everyone wanted to go to a spa or go to the woods,” Petras said—along with business planning, something that became so important with a lack of revenue in 2020.
Promote Your Professionalism in July
July has long been a big month for the TI because it marks the date of its annual Promote Your Professionalism (PYP) promotion that offers advisors a 50% discount on its scholarships.
July was initially chosen because interest in the TI’s course has tended to increase in July through September, a sort of back-to-school period for travel advisors that Petras can’t directly attribute to any one reason.
“We would always get a lot of inquiries that we would call ‘back-to-school’ inquiries around August and September. We always asked ‘why did it increase?’ Is it because so many advisors had kids in school or maybe because July is halfway through the year and ready to take education? I can’t answer that, but I know it’s a big trend.”
Petras said that last year, in the midst of the pandemic, the TI and its board considered not celebrating PYP in July. But when they saw the trends leading up to July 2020, including double the enrollment in the months leading up to July, they decided to go ahead.
Now, heading into July 2021, the TI is gearing up for another PYP promotion.
For advisors, the applications will be available to all starting on July 1 and will be open through the end of the month. If you are part of a consortium, there might be some early enrollment opportunities up to 10 days prior, and Petras advises all agents to check with their host or consortia prior to waiting until July.
However, advisors do not need to be a member of a host or consortia, or even a member of the TI, in order to enroll. The application is open to all.
Outside of PYP, new this year for the TI is an upcoming marketing campaign aimed at consumers.
“We’ve never done this,” Petras said. “We feel that post-COVID, it is important for us to educate the consumer now. We want to educate them to the fact that certified travel advisors exist.”
The TI is partnering with a public relations firm to spread that message to consumer media and it is hoping to “make a pretty big splash,” Petras said.
The campaign will push consumers to go to the TI website and find an agent through its searchable database of all certified advisors. The consumer, Petras said, will know that they are getting a professional, certified advisor who is active with their own education.
“That’s our purpose. That’s why we were formed,” Petras said. “We have always wanted to support professionalism and support advisors so that everybody wins.”
Having a certification also helps advisors who are just now starting to charge planning or service fees with their clients. With those three little letters, “you’ve got a degree of sort, you are a professional, you are different than someone down the street and there is a difference,” Petras said.
The goal of the TI, aside from education, is to get advisors certified so that consumers feel confident knowing they’ve opted to book with a certified professional, Petras added.