With America in crisis mode, many consumers and corporations alike are reconsidering their investments. Lingering concerns about our economy are making consumers increasingly skittish about investing their hard-won dollars in the market, let alone "investing" in homes, cars or other goods and services like vacations. So, against that backdrop, it's perfectly understandable that we in the travel agency community may be left to wonder if there's any investment worth making.
As someone who always tries to look for the silver lining, I for one believe this is the perfect time to invest in our agency talent. There are numerous proactive measures agencies can seize upon to build stronger foundations, even as the economy is battering the structure of our industry. While it's easy to get lost in the minutiae of the negative news, let alone your own balance sheets, if you tend to see the glass as half full, then you should view the current economic downturn as one of those rare opportunities where you can focus on improving yourself and your team.
What differentiates true travel experts from mere travel agents is the first-hand knowledge of everything from specific niches to destinations, the capacity for counseling clients with recommendations based on experience over brochures and the understanding gained from carefully listening to each client in the first place.
Fortunately, investing in your talent can be a relatively low-cost investment, it pays off in the long run, and there are countless opportunities to invest in both your front-line agents as well as yourself if you're the owner or manager of an agency.
If you haven't taken the time to review some of the latest training opportunities available, here are several that we at Travel Leaders encourage our own professionals to investigate:
* For front-line agents, one of the most obvious and effective training courses is CLIA's Accredited Cruise Counsellor (ACC) program. Frontline agents should earn this designation and then use it as a stepping stone to work toward becoming a Master Cruise Counsellor (MCC). These programs teach agents to focus on cruise sales and service, cruise line products, cruise destinations and groups. You can't find a more well-rounded program to help your agents sell cruises.
* Participate in destination and niche market programs through ASTA and The Travel Institute. Have your agents focus on the ones important to your business. If you sell a lot of the mass market destinations, they should study the Caribbean, Mexico, North America, Europe and Alaska. Or, specialize in more unique destinations such as Africa, East Asia, or Jordan. The Travel Institute offers learning opportunities for these and so much more. You can also complete training from ASTA in a specific niche market such as family travel, mature adult travel, adventure travel, and more.
* Broaden to other destinations. There are terrific destination programs sponsored by tourism boards. Many are at little or no cost.
* Partner with your preferred suppliers and learn their products inside and out. If they offer an online training program, make sure your agents complete it.
Ample investment opportunities exist for owners and managers as well.
The Travel Institute's renowned Certified Travel Counselor (CTC) and Certified Travel Industry Executive (CTIE) programs help broaden your business knowledge. For example, the CTIE program includes modules on business and financial planning; marketing strategies; negotiating; managing change and conflict; risk management; goal setting and motivation; and even time management. Earning the Certified Travel Associate (CTA) designation is the initial way to get started down the path to these upper-level certifications.
There are similar growth opportunities through community education programs and community colleges across the country. At the very least, join a networking organization to learn from fellow business owners and managers, and hopefully expand your prospect list as well.
Of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that at Travel Leaders, we have designed our own proprietary training program, called the Certified Travel Specialist program. Since the program's launch in December 2006 we have had nearly 120 graduates. It blends some of the industry's leading training programs including those from CLIA, The Travel Institute and ASTA, along with a wide selection of our very own proprietary opportunities into one of the most powerful travel agent designations in the industry.
As an industry, we've made great strides in battling the perception that travel professionals have had their day. However, we must redouble our efforts in demonstrating exceptional value every day particularly at a time when consumers are questioning every single discretionary dollar they spend.
When it gets right down to it, all we are selling is our expertise and knowledge - the ability to make our clients' travel, whether for vacations or business, perfect. It's up to us as industry leaders to help agents, managers and owners to sharpen their expertise and knowledge even further.
Invest now in your talent. It can pay enormous dividends once the economy picks back up again, and you just might find that it will help improve your business sooner than later.