With the number of independent contractors (ICs) continuing to grow, host agencies are responding with new-to-travel programs to help new consultants begin building their careers in travel.
The reasons why such programs were introduced, however, go beyond the increase in agents joining the industry. “We didn’t find the serious candidates we were looking for,” said Kelly Bergin, president of OASIS Travel Network. “Having owned a couple of travel businesses myself, I thought, if I was new to the industry what would I be looking for—and what would I really need?”
According to Steve Hirshan, Avoya Travel’s senior vice president of sales support, growth was an issue. “Four to five years ago, you’d go to a tradeshow and someone on stage would ask, ‘How many of you here are associated with a host?’—and 90 percent of the hands would go up.” The fact that most agencies were already affiliated with hosts showed Avoya that the only way it could grow was to find agents new to the industry, he said. “For us to grow fast and keep up with our ability to find new clients, we needed another source [to find new agents].”
Avoya’s New-To-Travel program works with a variety of online travel schools and is paired with the training offered through its Avoya University. Recently, Avoya partnered with CLIA to offer the association’s 10-course curriculum. It’s the first CLIA partnership of its kind with a host agency, according to Hirshan.
CLIA’s program “is perfect for us,” Hirshan said. “Most new-to-travel agents can sell anything they want, but they start with cruise leads first, because mass-market cruise ships are easier to sell.”
Travel Leaders of Tomorrow’s 17-week program includes eight virtual classrooms a year led by an instructor and culminates in a business plan or career plan written by the students, said Kindred. While The Travel Institute’s content is the foundation for the program, “we wrote and designed our online lessons,” she added.
The general profile of new-to-travel agents is a mixed one. Kindred said Travel Leaders of Tomorrow’s average student is 42. “Many students are 20 years into a career they’re tired of, so travel is an encore career for them,” she said. “They’re people who want that last job [to be] their passion. We also get a lot of young moms looking to [combine] doing what they love with making money.”
Addressing the so-called lack of young blood in the industry, Kindred noted, “We do get a good percentage of young people, but if you’ve just finished college, have student loans and live in a small town where the number of travel agencies is limited, it’s a challenge, although some do start careers as ICs.”
Millennials are a minority in OASIS’ program, said Bergin. “Millennials need to make money right away, and when becoming an IC, you don’t turn on a switch and the money starts coming in. We see a lot of people getting ready to retire and they’re thinking of their next step.” Also common are people tired of their current career and those who’ve been planning travel for family and friends and want to transform that into a business, she added.
As many as two-thirds of Avoya Travel’s new agencies last year were new entrants, according to Hirshan. “You’d think they wouldn’t be able to produce as much as experienced agents, but within a year they’re selling at 80 to 85 percent of an existing agency,” he said. “And we have seen that once we started New-To-Travel, the average age of our agency owners has gotten significantly younger.”