FRAMINGHAM, MA - From supply chain dynamics to destination specifics, government regulations to business requirements, and consumer preferences to new health protocols, getting and staying current is no small feat for travel professionals. The Travel Agent Next Door, TTAND, in Toronto, and Ohio-based KHM Travel Group are two of many travel organizations collaborating with The Travel Institute to deliver best-in-class education for their agents.
Just one example of how The Travel Institute collaborates with travel agencies, both KHM and TTAND are currently facilitating in-house, private study groups to support agents determined to earn their Certified Travel Associate, or CTA, credentials before year's end and ahead of the industry's eventual rebound. The 15-module CTA course is designed to help agents enhance value, improve efficiencies and marketability, and grow sales delivered through a practical, real-life approach to learning. Utilizing a "train the trainer" model, both organizations are taking advantage of The Travel Institute's proprietary syllabus, step-by-step lesson plans, presentation materials, class calendars, progress quizzes and more to deliver the immersive experience in-house.
"We certainly save time and money over trying to keep a program up-to-date on our own but what really excites us is working with The Travel Institute-an education-based organization-to utilize a program developed and managed by education professionals. Why would I do it any other way?" asked Rhonda Stanley, CTC, vice president, talent, TTAND. Stanley facilitates the host agency's CTA study group and also uses The Travel Institute's textbooks, an introductory program course for new agents, and other learning modules in TTAND's customized onboarding program. For TTAND, a host agency focused on attracting and developing quality agents, the partnership has translated into financial success as CTAs at TTAND are top performers recognized consistently for contributing to the 6-year-old Canadian organization's fast-growing bottom line.
Marie Smith, CTA, VTA, is group department manager with KHM, which has more than 4,500 agents across the United States. Working with The Travel Institute for more than five years, KHM utilizes various content modules from the education leader. Smith, also a member of The Travel Institute's Academic Council, has seen "huge interest" from KHM agents enrolling in the CTA for several years and is now facilitating her first study group. "It's an opportunity to further take advantage of industry-leading content and customize it for our independent host model," she said, explaining, "We take key concepts and make them our own. Consider team building-our independent contractors may not sit with a team each day but they still need team-building to create a support network."
Guida Botelho, CTIE, director of education at The Travel Institute, emphasized the education leader works with numerous agencies and schools in a variety of ways to support their training efforts. "Learning is not a one-size fits all proposition; we're flexible about how we work with individuals and organizations and that's a really rewarding, fun part of what we do," she shared.
KHM's current CTA study group includes 69 agents while TTAND's study group is 43 agents. For both, agents attend an online, facilitated class each week while also studying independently in-between group times. They can also take advantage of recordings if they want to review what they've learned or missed a class. Along with the significant cost savings over maintaining such a course in-house, as well as added flexibility and control, both facilitators value the up-to-date content delivered through an expert-designed, online learning management system, the opportunity to collaborate on course improvements, and the ability to use the group study option as a recruiting tool.
"Many travel education programs only cover part of the education an agent needs and some organizations use an on-the-job learning approach, which can have devastating consequences for travelers counting on agent expertise," explained Stanley, a 42-year industry veteran. "Getting certified is not a walk in the park-there is a lot to learn and it can be difficult but once agents have it, they really stand out. The capabilities and confidence they gain are well worth their time and money," she insisted.
Smith agreed and said while the industry does not have standard education requirements, the CTA designation has become an industry standard in and of itself providing the practical and professional skills every agent needs. "Certification through The Travel Institute is valuable because of the skills and confidence it gives an agent but also because of the professional stamp of approval it earns them with peers and with travelers who can verify agent credentials online and learn about the difference those three letters truly make. I wish every agent was required to go through this course," she enthused, noting certified agents often charge differently given the superior capabilities and service they provide.
For those balancing career and other priorities, the private study group also creates momentum they may not otherwise have. "It's human nature to procrastinate when you are busy with other things and you don't have a hard deadline," Stanley acknowledged, referring to agents who go it alone. "But when you have a study group with a solid curriculum led by an instructor, it's more engaging and it becomes interactive. It's clear that is what we have at TTAND and it helps our agents stay on course."
While agents with access to private study groups like TTAND and KHM value the peer support, accessibility, accountability and real-time relevance the study groups provide, agents who do not have an in-house program can enroll in the course and join The Travel Institute's public, recurring study groups or study independently. "Our only goal is agent and industry success," according to Botelho. "Whether it's off-the-shelf plug and play, a white-labeled product, a customized version of our content or another creative solution, we want to share our 'tried and true' content, education expertise and know-how."
For both TTAND and KHM's current study groups, their efforts will culminate this winter in sitting for the proctored CTA test. Stanley and Smith will be cheering agents on, hoping for passing scores while cognizant that for travel's best and brightest, learning never stops. "Some of our industry designations require memberships or sales quotas but certification through The Travel Institute requires only a commitment to keep learning," Stanley noted. "Let's face it, that should be happening for agents required or not. Our industry is constantly changing and the day you stop learning you might as well wave the white flag."
Agent training is vital in attracting new talent, improving productivity, increasing revenue, and building strong teams. An expert training partner saves agencies time and money while ensuring quality results.