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Recruiting StrategiesOctober 9, 2006 By: Joe Pike Travel Agent
How to attract the next generation of travel agents
Amy Reid was a saleswoman for a successful clothing business, making a comfortable salary with bonuses when she, at the age of 27, decided to change career paths and become a travel agent at Martin's Travel & Tours in Los Angeles.
risky transition into a business that can be hit or miss was based on her love
of travel and her ability to sell products using an engaging personality as the
core of her customer service qualities.
"I was a little bit scared in making the move, coming
from a salary-based business with bonuses to one that relies heavily on
commission, but I love to travel myself and thought it would be a great
challenge to get into something new and different," she says.
Agents, the Amy Reids of the world—young sales professionals
with secure jobs who are willing to get involved in an industry that has taken
a hit since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks that frightened some
people away from travel—don't come along too often.
So, don't rely on them to fall on your lap.
Instead, rely on any recruiting tools you can get your hands
on—all forms of advertising, in-house and outside internship programs,
knowledge of nearby travel schools, mentoring programs and networking, keeping
your eyes and ears open for anyone who might want to join the team.
But, above all, do what you are doing now—sell.
"That's how you recruit," says Caroline Applequist,
director of human resources for AAA's
sell it to them. But you are not selling destinations, you have to sell the
travel industry, the idea of being a travel agent—the opportunity to travel
around the world."
Here's what some agencies, large and small, are doing to get
the next generation of travel agents.
Hopefully, it will create a welcome task for agents looking
to beef up staff: reading a full stack of resumes.
Your Next Agent Could Be Sitting Across From You
First, let's start with Reid. How did Susan Tanzman, owner
of the nearly 10-agent company, land someone like Reid?
When selling travel to clients, Tanzman urged her agents to
also ask if they knew anyone who was interested in getting involved with the
other side of the business. Fortunately for Tanzman, Reid, one of her best
"Some of our best agents were recruited through
discussions with clients," she says. "Besides Amy, we have two
retired firemen on staff who can sell."
A knowledge of the travel industry should take the backseat
to experience in selling when an agency is looking for a good agent, Tanzman
Kari Thomas, this year's winner of the American Society of
Travel Agents' (ASTA) Travel Agent of the Year award, agrees.
"Most agents don't want to look at themselves as
salespeople. They don't want to admit it, but that's exactly what we are,"
Thomas says. "If you have a client who has experience in sales, you should
definitely try to encourage them to get into the business."
Go Out in the World...to Get Others to Sell it for You
When recruiting doesn't work in-house, venture out into the
community, local high schools or colleges that teach travel courses or offer
"I've gone into high schools, junior high schools,
colleges, career fairs and spoken about the industry," Thomas says.
"You'd be surprised how excited some of these kids can be about the
industry, about learning more."
If you have a chapter of the Academy of Travel & Tourism
in your state, contact its official to find out what you can do to get
involved—these are nests filled with youth looking to become active in the
travel industry. Most offer internship program and allow agents to come and
speak about the profession.
Regina Flannery, director of the NYC Academy of
Finance/Academy of Hospitality & Tourism, says most graduates of the
academy, which is comprised of high school students, get involved in the
industry in some way, whether it's in marketing, hospitality or the travel
"This is a pipeline to the industry," she says.
"These can be the agents of the future."
In her years involved with the academy, she's learned that
many young people are turned off to the industry because they feel the Internet
is replacing the need for travel agents. Flannery says this isn't true and
encourages agents to pass the message along to anyone who feels that way.
"There is such a thing as too much information, and
that's what's happened with the Internet," she says.
"There's this information overload that makes people
crave that personal attention. Agents have to get out there, visit schools and
tell them the Internet is actually helping the business for that reason."
AAA is in the preliminary stages of establishing a formal
internship program with the State University of New York/Delhi Campus in
SUNY Delhi has a two-year associate's degree program in
travel, offering an opportunity for students to earn their bachelor's degree in
With more than 300 students enrolled in the program and a
required internship as part of the curriculum, it could be a win-win situation
branch and the university.
So, how did AAA find out about this?
By picking up the phone.
"There are so many colleges out there that offer
internship programs, you just have to find them," says Applequist.
"We're hoping this program will get kids in here, let them see how we
operate, let them see what it's like to sell travel, and eventually encourage
them to become travel agents."
Organizations Doing Their Part
Virtuoso's Strategy of Growth program features a strong
emphasis on recruiting. The program, which was launched in April and is geared
toward building on the company's momentum, stresses recruitment as its main
Based on feedback from its member agencies, combined with
explosive growth and the demand for unique life experiences, inspired Virtuoso
to step up its recruiting efforts, says Mark Belles, executive vice president
of sales and service.
Its efforts include ads running in Travel Agent, Home-Based
Travel Agent, Luxury Travel Advisor and Travel Professional
magazines; e-marketing campaigns, strong presence at industry trade shows,
capturing interested travel counselor prospects through an inquiry site, www.virtuoso.com, and
providing existing members with a local agent recruiting kit, intended to
leverage the network campaign, Belles says.
"The challenge is getting good salespeople and giving
them the training and tools they need to become successful in this
industry," Belles says.
"We recognize that compensation is an issue, but we've
developed a career path for agents (including sales and product training,
accreditation, educational trips and the development of specialties) to ensure
they are knowledgeable.
"They move through this agent continuum as their skills
increase. Their increased skill set, combined with our unparalleled product
portfolio, best-in-class marketing and industry leading services, increases
their ability to earn in the role and enjoy a compensation level that's
comparable to sales positions in other industries," says Belle.
Signature Travel Network has created a series of
"Webinars"—online seminars designed to train new agents on how to use
all the tools that Signature has available today.
"(Recruiting) is a major concern of our network,"
says Ignacio Maza, vice president. "Many of our member agencies currently
have a number of immediate openings that they are having trouble staffing. We
think this is not just a Signature problem, but an industry-wide concern."
So what are Signature members doing to correct the problem?
"Every member is pursuing a different strategy,
depending on the particular situation, financials, sales volume, pent up
demand, et cetera, of the specific agency," Maza says. "In general,
there are a number of trends. Agency managers are considering and hiring
candidates who do not have a travel background. Many managers are hiring for
attitude, sales skills, and a willingness to learn—then training them in the
travel field they will be working in (corporate travel, leisure, cruises,
Maza also notes that a number of managers are hiring
retired/furloughed flight attendants, then training them how to be a travel
Flight attendants bring experience in customer service and
are usually people who are well traveled—two strong qualifications in their
favor, Maza says.
ASTA has a Young Professionals Society that is made of
mostly agents under the age of 40 who are constantly spreading the word of the
programs' success and recruiting new members, says Senior Vice President Paul
"Agents need to quit putting down their own profession
by telling people their job is simply selling vacations," he says.
"They have to spread the word that travel is so important, has such a
global importance as far as exchanging cultural information goes. If young
people can see that with their own eyes, recruiting would be easier."
Joanie Ogg, president of the National Association of
Commissioned Travel Agents (NACTA) says her company is looking into a mentoring
program in which veteran agents work with people who have an interest in the
"If you have someone who already has the passion for
travel, then you are in good shape. And if you really want them to get into the
industry, they should see firsthand what it takes, and perhaps they will choose
it as a career," Ogg says.
"The concept of a travel agent is someone who makes
dreams come true," she adds.
"It shouldn't be hard to get someone to take a job like
that. If you try hard enough, you'll find them."