According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “continuing education is critical for travel agents because the abundance of travel information readily available through the Internet and other sources has resulted in more informed consumers who expect agents to be experts in their field.”
But it was obvious from Travel Agent magazine’s start that agents had to know more than consumers to sell travel successfully. And, because dealing with agents, then consumers, was far easier for travel suppliers and destinations, education was a priority for all. A September 1938 Travel Agent editorial, “It Seems Important to Us,” noted, “Any dealer in travel can carry as large and varied ‘stock of goods’ with no capital outlay. His stock is knowledge…”
Then, as now, agents relied on their expertise to stay in business: “I helped my clients spend a dollar for travel better than the client could by himself,” summed up an agent in the November 1938 issue. Our pages in 1938 showed suppliers hosting travel agents at seminars, just as they do today. And agents then, as now, shared reports from fam trips, ideas for window displays and bon voyage gifts to build customer relationships, etc.
ASTA, in the 1950s, introduced a home study course, the industry’s first basic training tool. In the 1960s, ASTA took it further, holding its first School at Sea and opening seven travel schools. In the ’80s, the Society continued its emphasis on education, organizing TrainingFests, School on Rails, School at Sea and School on the Road.
In the 1990s, ASTA published the Travel Agent Manual. The Society has various online and home study courses for its members to use in furthering their expertise. In 2006, ASTA launched its International Destination Expo, an annual meeting held in different countries each year that offers a new approach to destination training.
While the much younger Association of Retail Travel Agents is “engaged in many projects at different levels, its two primary activities center around providing educational and training opportunities to all levels of agents, and representation of their point of view before industry, government and consumer organizations.”
Established at about the same time as ARTA, in 1964, The Travel Institute (then known as the Institute of Certified Travel Agents) uses innovative education programs, professional certifications and customized learning solutions to fulfill its nonprofit mission of promoting a standard of industry knowledge and excellence.
While The Travel Institute has its core programs for destinations, sales, marketing and operations leading to CTC or CTA certifications, the Institute promotes continuing education by requiring the CTCs and CTAs to take courses offered by individual destinations and suppliers. Agents must accumulate 10 CEUs (Continuing Education Units) each year from approved courses. (Nearly 30 such courses are hosted by Travel Agent University.)
The airlines’ best-known school was the Breech Training Academy, operated by TWA at an Overland Park, KS, campus from 1969 to 1988. TWA used the facility for training its employees—flight attendants, ticket agents and pilots—but also hosted travel agents who were taught the intricacies of PNRs, building itineraries and calculating fares.
One of the Breech Academy instructors—Armin D. Lehmann—was well known in the industry. For over 40 years, Lehmann worked in the travel and tourism industry as a tour director and operator, as well as an industry training specialist and consultant. He authored 10 books, including Travel and Tourism, An Introduction To Travel Agency Operations, and Travel Agency Policy & Procedures Manual. Also, he wrote more than 200 articles for travel industry trade journals—including the Agency Operations column in Travel Agent magazine. From 1977-1981, Lehmann served as vice president of education & training for ARTA.
Cruise Lines International Association, since its founding in 1975, has held travel agent education among its primary objectives. A team of CLIA instructors set up daylong classes in cities across the U.S. to help retailers understand the cruise product and master the cruise sales process. Later, CLIA expanded its offerings with videotaped training, sessions at trade shows, and the Master Cruise Counselor/Associate Cruise Counselor (MCC/ACC) certification programs. Today, CLIA provides training in nine forms: seminars, video/DVD training, CLIA Institute Track at cruise3sixty.com, The Cruise Industry Textbook, CLIA Training By Request, annual TrainingFests, online training, and ACD/ACP program for colleges. Meanwhile, CLIA-member cruise lines expanded their own training.
News, Education and TAU
In a trade publication such as Travel Agent magazine, it’s hard to draw a distinction between “news” and “education.” A story about “new airline sales reporting rules” is news, but also essential education for someone who has to sell by those rules. Over the years, many of Travel Agent’s How To columns were sparked by regulatory or supplier news.
In the ’80s, cruise industry executives were particularly outspoken about the shortage of sales education for agents. There was training on how to write airline tickets, how to use airline res systems, how to research destinations, hotels, etc. But almost nothing was available on how to qualify customers, present a product’s features and benefits, handle objections and close sales. This lack of knowledge crippled agents, making them order-takers instead of salespeople, in the view of executives such as Bob Dickinson, Carnival’s then senior VP, sales and marketing.
CLIA’s seminars began filling that void, but like the How-To columns, the education couldn’t stray from the generic. CLIA, after all, had dozens of fiercely competing products and travel agents still had to adapt general principles for specific clients and products.
What was needed, it seemed, were some product-specific sales scripts that agents could use to sell their preferred supplier offerings to agents’ own clientele. Brand-specific selling guides would teach agents how to decide whether a particular tour, cruise or destination should be offered to a particular customer—and which features were best to highlight, and so on.
Travel Agent magazine and key suppliers reached the same conclusion at about the same time: The College of Disney Knowledge became our first brand-specific sales course, followed by a stream of hotel and cruise line guides—the first “specialist” courses.
The Internet allowed us to put all of our new courses in a year-round home: Travel Agent University. This move (in 1999) meant that our courses had extended reach and life: Non-subscribers could participate, even months after the course was initially presented. Since that launch a decade ago, TAU has grown to host more than 40 courses.