|A quintet of Young Travel Professionals (YTP) co-founders, Wazha Dube, Carole Anne Hughs, Lee Edelstein, Karen Magee and David Kartagener.|
It cannot be denied that the travel industry is changing in ways few would have imagined a decade ago. What started just a few years back with Facebook has mushroomed into a whole new world of technology-driven, forward thinking ideas that are shaking up the way the modern travel agent markets and sells travel. And who is fueling this fire? Millennials.
Today’s youth is taking the travel industry by storm, showing off new methods of promoting their business, promoting themselves, and selling travel. It’s a whole new game that is fueled by social media and technology, and has changed the way these agents and their clients view leisure travel. But for a business that has been around for more than a century, it’s hard to change the rules, especially when there are agents who have been around the block a few times and are apprehensive about this new craze that’s sweeping the industry.
The Trend Setters
Enter Young Travel Professionals. In 2011 in New York City, a group of young, like-minded professionals in the travel business came together to organize a group that would help to foster the networking opportunities for those of similar ilk. These founding members included Wazha Dube, business development manager, Kartagener Associates; Lee Edelstein, senior account executive, The Brandman Agency; John Gilfillan, getaways account executive, Zozi; Carole Anne Hughs, marketing and leisure coordinator, Valerie Wilson Travel; David Kartagener, vice president, Kartagener Associates; and Karen Magee, director of corporate sales, North America, The Doyle Collection.
“My fellow founders and I would often attend industry events and find ourselves being the youngest people in the room,” says Edelstein. “We ended up talking about the fact that we didn’t really know many other young people in the industry and that it would be great to figure out a way to bring people like ourselves together.”
The founders of YTP saw a need for this type of forum, as there was a void in the community. None of the existing groups out there, created by other young professionals, catered to the unique needs and interests of young people. “We felt that there was a shortage of young professionals entering the travel business. We thought the reason for this was simply a lack of awareness of the opportunities travel and hospitality have to offer,” Edelstein continues. “One of the biggest trends that we were finding was that most people we knew were falling into this industry by accident. We truly wanted to change that by creating a solid network and putting into place mentorship programs to educate students in order to attract young talent into this field.”
It seems that a little education and a place to come together was exactly what the young people needed. YTP’s first event was in November 2011. Today YTP has chapters in the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom, including New York, San Francisco, Boston, Seattle, London and Vancouver, with further expansion in the pipeline.
“The organization has just continued to expand,” says Edelstein. “Our members have been absolutely incredible, and recommend us to their colleagues, bring their coworkers and invite their contacts. From that first event we have succeeded in holding an event every single month.” The events are held at various bars or hotels around the chapter cities. Young agents, and agents who are “young at heart” (i.e., embrace the changing vibes of the industry), come together on a weeknight for cocktails and conversation.
Monthly YTP events, such as this one at The James Hotel’s Urban Garden in New York City, draw young travel pros as well as others from diverse backgrounds interested in entering the industry.
“There are no strict qualifications for membership or attendance at YTP,” says Edelstein. “The organization is purposefully as inclusive as possible, welcoming professionals and those wanting to enter the industry from diverse backgrounds, fields and expertise. We look at young as not only a number, but a state of mind, and leave it to our members to decide if the group is for them or not.”
They have access to other young people in the industry and are able to form connections and build relationships to help them carve out their own personal niches in this already firmly established world. In fact, one of their greatest success stories is of Whitney McCasland. McCasland got her start in the industry by stumbling across one of YTP’s events. It was through YTP that she found her first internship and job in the travel industry. Today she is a Sales Coordinator with the Dorchester Collection.
Los Angeles Leaders
But YTP is not the only youth-oriented organization on the travel industry scene. In Los Angeles, Millennials in Travel is drumming up their own following among the West Coast traveling youth.
Millennials in Travel was born from a group of women in the Los Angeles area who got together once a month and started networking. Like YTP founders, they noticed that all of the travel events were predominantly attended by the older generations. Soon the group opened up their circle to men. It was at this point that Joshua Smith found the group and began communicating with them about this challenge in the industry. “We [millennials] communicate, market and network differently,” he says. “We saw a greater opportunity to take in what we had accomplished in Los Angeles and put it on a broader scale nationally.” In February 2013, Millennials in Travel officially launched in Los Angeles. The founders, Joshua Smith of Travcoa, Caitlin Murphy of Frosch Classic Cruise & Travel and Carolyn Pope of Tourism New Zealand, polled members to see what they wanted to focus on and what resources the group could provide.
“One of the biggest opportunities that they wanted was jobs,” says Smith. Initially the group had considered hosting a mentor program, pairing older millennials with younger ones, but it turns out that that was just not what the membership base was interested in. Job opportunities were at the front of their minds. In response to this, Millennials in Travel recently launched an industry opportunities program. “We’ve been sent about 50 jobs since February, launching all across the nation—from Pittsburgh to Los Angeles to New York City,” says Smith. “We recognize the importance
of millennials and we want them.”
Millennials in Travel has a database of 700 qualified, tourism-focused young professionals, backed by a team of 43 people in leadership positions around the country. At the moment, the organization is predominantly supplier-focused, but they want more participation from the travel agent community. In November, Millennials in Travel hosted an event at Signature Travel Network’s sales meeting in Las Vegas, in order to raise awareness among its members.
Today they have chapters in Miami, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Las Vegas and San Diego. What sets them apart from YTP is their definitive focus on job placement, as well as their age cap. “We have already filled eight roles within the industry. We’ve also brought new people into the industry who were in other sectors. Those who are in Millennials in Travel share job postings with those that are interested, and the response from players has been amazing,” says Smith. “With Millennials, our primary focus is the generation that we are in. Because we have that branding aligned with us, we have a limitation of membership [those born after 1975].
YTP co-founder John Gilfillan with Anthony Maggio, YTP’s San Francisco communications and marketing manager.
“Our generation wants not-extremely -overpriced luxury that is contemporary,” he says. “That’s the unique aspect of Millennials in Travel. We have a core age range that is never changing. Once you hit 40 years old, you aren’t out. You just need to be born after 1975. We maintain the same goals and values because of that upbringing.”
Millennials in Travel will be launching a few other programs early next year, as well. These will be opportunities that are exclusive to the young generation. They include online training modules to learn about different sectors of the industry, exclusive fam trips and new chapters. Also in the new
year, the organization will start membership dues on a national level. The money will fund training opportunities and will cover standard operating costs.
“I started going to Millennials in Travel before it was even called that,” says member Katelyn O’Shaughnessy, Founder and CEO of TripScope. “I went to an event in Beverly Hills before I was even a travel agent. I wanted to be a part of the industry and get my foot in the door and talk to people my own age. This is one of the best industries and jobs you can have out there. It’s fun, exciting and sexy to book luxury vacations for high-end clients.”
“There are 18 million millennials who make more than $100,000 a year,” Smith adds. “We want their business. We are here to change the industry.”
Consortia Join the Cause
The call of the youth is so widespread and undeniable that the industry’s top consortia have recognized its impact and have geared up to make themselves useful, relevant and available to this incoming class.
Travel Leaders Group has instituted Travel Leaders of Tomorrow, a major initiative over the past year that was designed to not only attract new talent into the travel industry, but also, ultimately, to place the best candidates within its member agencies.
Complementing Travel Leaders of Tomorrow is Travel Leaders Franchise Group’s Travel Leaders Academy, the latest franchise offering now available through Travel Leaders Franchise Group that was launched in August. The Academy will provide in-depth classroom training to prospective travel agent candidates.
Nexion, Travel Leaders’ home-based agency program, has developed Agents Connecting Together, which was first launched in 2012. The goal is to pair up new agents with experienced ones for peer mentoring.
Vacation.com is also leading the charge in recruiting new members to the industry. “We are doing a lot, especially from the Vacation.com side,” says John Lovell, CTC, president of Vacation.com. “At our 2013 International Conference, we had a YPS event, and have sponsored one additional event this year as well. We are planning a bigger under-40s event for our 2014 conference.” Forty percent of Vacation.com’s staff is under 40 years of age.
Virtuoso is also committed to the growth and success of young travel agents. Every year it invites people to attend a two-day program, the Virtuoso Difference Event, in which Virtuoso gives an overview of the luxury travel industry and Virtuoso specifically. Attendees participate in two full days of training, followed by an invitation to engage with member agencies through a job fair. Attendees receive knowledge of the travel advisor career, the industry and Virtuoso’s role within it.
At this year’s Virtuoso Travel Week, students from Cornell’s Master’s program were invited to attend to gain an understanding of the Virtuoso network and the potential for a career in travel. Many of Virtuoso’s members also work with local colleges and universities as guest speakers and in curriculum development.
One of the highlights of Signature Travel Network’s annual meeting is the introduction of the Young Advisors Community (YAC). This new network of young travel consultants under the age of 40 is exclusive to young Signature members. Members of YAC will enjoy special networking events and receptions throughout the conference.
“Instead of focusing on the organization, Signature focuses on its members; and the members’ desire and demand for a program for the up-and-coming travel generation inspired the Young Advisors Community,” explains President and CEO Alex Sharpe. “Signature’s priority is to provide tools and services, including training opportunities that address the needs of a diverse array of members, advisors and business models. With the development of the Young Advisors Community, we want to create a space for young members to cultivate relationships with other travel professionals and to provide training, best practices, and career development within the travel industry.”
While Ensemble Travel Group does not have a formal program designed for recruiting young professionals, it does have several things in support of their efforts. Ensemble sponsors ASTA’s Young Professionals Society and also sponsors events like the recent Blue Sky Symposium in Fort Lauderdale.
“For the last several years, the topic of recruiting the next generation of travel professionals has been part of the Ensemble Travel Group International Conference program and formal discussions at other member events,” says Libbie Rice, co-president, Ensemble Travel Group. “One of this year’s keynote speakers, [G Adventures founder] Bruce Poon Tip, will talk about the noble profession—that of a travel agent. Conference attendees will be encouraged to share this message with new recruits, especially those in the under-40 generation.”
Forging an Alliance
Here at Travel Agent magazine, we too deeply recognize the importance of the new class of travel agents, both the young and the young at heart. At this year’s Luxury Travel Exchange International, we announced the launch of the Young Travel Leaders Alliance, a community for under-40 travel professionals that showcases industry talent, and fosters peer-to-peer networking and education, career development and information sharing opportunities. Our goal is to identify and recognize this group and provide a forum for continued innovation and information exchange.
We will partner with existing young leader organizations in the travel space to promote awareness and drive enrollment among new members. Through our publications we will provide content-specific education and information to address the growing need of young professionals. We will also serve as a conduit for local chapters to meet and share best practices.
As a travel agent, this alliance is valuable because it provides education and career guidance that speaks to this young community. The content we provide will focus on existing youth-oriented franchises, including Travel Agent’s 30 Under 30, and topics like social media, as well as introduce new media, including a targeted newsletter. Members will qualify for discounted registrations to the Young Leaders Conference and will gain eligibility for Young Leaders Alliance fam trips and more.