Handling the Cost of Education

Every good agent knows that it's key to stay up to speed on all that's happening in the industry, but how much education is necessary? And who should be responsible for the cost? Travel Agent asked, you answered. 

Bob Watson

Watson & Watson
Scarsdale, NY
Some agency owners turn to the convenience and cost effectiveness of the Internet to school agents at home and in the office. "Being a member of Virtuoso, there's a tremendous wealth of training available via WebEx seminars, and our people take advantage of that," shares Bob Watson of Watson & Watson in Scarsdale, NY. Watson says plenty of web-based seminars exist that cover just about every travel-related topic, from a specific hotel property to a national or community tourist office trying to promote their area. He also encourages fam trips, and notes, "Generally [the agents] are responsible for any expense incurred, but if something comes up that doesn't require payment, our agents will take advantage of that."

Watson believes education is vital, regardless of who pays for it, saying, "It represents an investment on your part as well as the willingness to learn." 

Rick Etherson

Etherson Travel Destinations
Knoxville, TN
"Our training is primarily in-house," says Rick Etherson, owner of Etherson Travel Destinations, in Knoxville, TN. "We don't send our outside agents away for travel agent training." First, he says, "We send them on a Sandals fam trip. We pay the air, while Sandals picks up the rest."

Etherson explains he leads in-house training sessions utilizing manuals based on the products the company sells. He keeps his agents up to date with two refresher courses a year. The company has five outside sales agents, including one who is a CTC with 30 years of experience.

"We have a narrow alley of sales: the Caribbean, Hawaii and Alaska," says Etherson. "We quickly try to get our people off the thought that they can sell the world. We encourage our agents to specialize— there's no better way to succeed."

Bruce Fisher

Bruce Fisher

Aloha Travel Agency
Honolulu, HI

Hawaii Aloha Travel is a tech-savvy travel agency run by owners Bruce and Yaling Yu Fisher with the support of a team of independent contractors. The agency, based in Honolulu, sells Hawaii travel—and as such, says Bruce Fisher, it's critical that every agent is well versed in the destination and products available.

"Especially when you're selling Hawaii, education is so important for the agent," he says. That's why every independent contractor is required to earn destination-specialist certification through the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau's Ke Kula O Hawaii program, as well as completing NCL's Specialist Plus program for Hawaii.

Kelly Shea

Earle Travel
Indianapolis, IN

Kelly Shea, vice president and owner of Earle Travel in Indianapolis and a Virtuoso member, extols the benefits of agents attending online seminars.

"If an agent doesn't know a product by the end of day, they can find out pretty quickly," she says, adding, "It's a good way to cut costs."

To keep costs trim, Shea encourages all agents to take advantage of fam trips, which are usually wholly or partially paid for by the tour operator. "When fams come across my desk, they go to everyone in the office," Shea says.

Skip Fortier

Skip Fortier

MacNair Travel
Alexandria, VA
One Virginia agency covers education depending on its relationship with the agent. "The outside consultants we use have their own business, so we don't pay for their training. However, on our corporate side of the business, we do have full-time travel consultants that work from home. They are full-time employees of MacNair Travel, and we do pay for their training," notes Skip Fortier, manager of vacation travel at MacNair Travel in Alexandria, VA.

—David Eisen, Camie Foster, Jennifer Merritt, Mark Rogers