Whatever the state of the economy, travel agents can benefit from the ongoing boom in professional education and training programs, many of which are free and can lead to professional certification and recognition.
Agents have an array of options to pursue in 2009 depending on their interests, background and experience. Cruise lines, hotels, agency consortia and franchise groups, along with major associations and destinations, have programs that can build skills and offer professional recognition. Many programs offer agents incentives for participating, including higher commissions, prizes and fam trips. Professional education can also be the key to promotion and is widely regarded as the core to building a successful career.
One of the top industry educators is the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), which is offering preferred partnerships and new training and certification programs in 2009. This includes 85 in-market training events in the first quarter. CLIA agents report that training and certification helps generate an average increase in sales of 261 percent.
Noteworthy in CLIA’s first-quarter training is a three-hour seminar entitled “Who Are You? An Exploration of Your Abilities, Skills and Strengths,” which will be given throughout the U.S. and Canada. In addition, CLIA offers online training and a program of educational seminars and workshops at cruise3sixty, the cruise industry’s largest annual conference, which will be held in Fort Lauderdale this year from April 2 to 5. Visit www.cruising.org.
Another top-ranked company, Starwood Hotels & Resorts, recently launched ProLearning—a new online training program designed to help travel professionals better understand each of Starwood’s nine brands. The program also includes a short-term sweepstakes opportunity for all participants, as well as attractive STARPRO rates for those who complete the training. Agents can also earn continuing education credits.
Like many current training programs, Starwood uses the Internet. ProLearning allows travel professionals to work online at their own pace, with little advance work or preparation. In ProLearning’s case, each of the training modules will contain video, audio and high-resolution visuals, as well as learning aids such as supplemental offerings and hyperlinks to other sites. Visit www.starwoodhotels.com.
Another program is being offered by Trafalgar Tours, which has launched its “Travel Agent Rescue” program to help cruise-selling travel agents increase sales and retain clients by selling escorted tours to destinations clients have “sampled” on cruises. Trafalgar says CLIA research and its own surveys have shown that cruise and escorted-tour customers are nearly identical.
The “Travel Agent Rescue Pack” contains collateral outlining a step-by-step approach for selling escorted tours to a travel agent’s current cruise customers, as well as a selection of brochures and a DVD. Trafalgar’s program seeks to increase agents’ revenues by expanding their product line and taking advantage of higher tour commissions. Visit www.trafalgartours.com.
Marriott International is celebrating the 10th anniversary of its Hotel Excellence! travel agent training program and 20th anniversary of its Fam-Tastic program with the debut of four brand-new training modules. Since the Hotel Excellence! program’s inception, Marriott says it has certified more than 142,000 graduates in 53 countries as Hotel Sales Specialists.
Passing Hotel Excellence! is the first step toward becoming a Marriott Preferred Travel Agency (PTA). The program offers a preferred-commission status and special benefits for participating travel agencies. Once a PTA, agencies receive a 10 percent commission on commissionable transient reservations, as well as a 10 percent commission on the sale of Marriott’s Incentive Certificates.
The Travel Institute kicked off 2009 with a new Educational Stimulus Program for travel professionals. Throughout February, people who enroll in any specialist or certification program can simply pay the test-only fee and receive all the related content at no charge. Visit www.thetravelinstitute.com/esp.
Major consortia are also players. Vacation.com, for example, has introduced the Travel Agent Training program, available via www.agentnet.com/aac. The program is a valuable success-building tool designed for all retailers, ranging from beginners to professionals, providing in-depth coverage of essential sales, marketing and communication skills. Vacation.com offers mobile training and webinars as well as an annual conference, which will be held from June 17–19 this year.
Check other options offered by the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) at www.asta.org. Also explore your consortia, your host agency or destinations and suppliers with whom you want to work.