Interviewing: Diane Petras, CTIE, President – The Travel Institute
An Interview By: Joanie Ogg, Co-Founder – Travel Professional NEWS
I had the pleasure of catching-up with my good friend and colleague Diane Petras CTIE, President of The Travel Institute this month. Diane and I have known each other for many years and we both have such a passion for this industry and the travel professionals out there on the front-lines who we both admire so much. You know when you meet someone and you just get that feeling that you could be great friends? Well, that is how I felt when I first met Diane Petras. Over the years we have enjoyed so many great conversations and many a glass of wine as well! She is an amazing professional and our industry is so lucky to have her at the helm of The Travel Institute.
When I asked Diane to share some of her sage advice and insight with our readers, she graciously agreed. First and foremost, thank you to Diane and her team for all they do for our industry and for spending some time with us here.
Can you share with our readers a bit of history about your industry experience and your current role at The Travel Institute?
I started in the retail travel industry in 1986 as an independent contractor in Chicago—and that was before a travel career was popular! My travel career includes frontline travel experience as well as 20 years as an agency owner with travel and meeting planning services. After leaving Chicago in the mid-90s, I became a producer for travel industry training events and a developer and marketer of travel software for independent contractors with TRAMS and Sabre.
My background in training and technology eventually led me to my current role. Today, I enjoy focusing on the development of educational content along with using technology to find new, interactive and creative ways of delivering it.
The Travel Institute helped me get to where I am today and I am honored to be in a position to give back—not only to my organization but to our industry as a whole. Listening and responding to the educational needs of students is what drives me and my team. I have a passion for The Travel Institute mission and purpose within our industry and I feel privileged to lead an equally passionate team that understands the demanding roles of frontline travel advisor, business owner and every role in between. We keep the needs of these roles in mind with everything we discuss, create and deliver.
Can you enlighten us on the history and the current goals of The Travel Institute?
Ah! I’m so glad you asked this because so many forget why this organization was created and how long it has served the industry. The concept of travel agents seeking proficiency and professionalism is not new. The Travel Institute was founded as a non-profit, collaborative effort in 1964 by a group of industry executives representing travel agencies, airlines, hoteliers, and tour operators working in cooperation with Michigan State University to develop a certification program that would develop stronger, more agile business people.
In addition, The Travel Institute was founded during a period of dramatic industry change—sound familiar? One of the founders, George G. Brownell, CTC, was concerned “high-speed” computers would replace order takers and ticket clerks. He said, “In my opinion, only creative, highly trained, professional travel agents will be able to survive in the coming age.” He was right! And, 56 years later, The Travel Institute has graduated more than 26,000 travel professionals and provided continuing education to hundreds of thousands more.
Our history showcases our original and still current goal: to deliver the highest quality content in order to build strong and agile business professionals in the retail travel industry.
The Travel Institute is a non-profit organization. Can you tell us what that means to the travel community?
Our mission focuses on the creation and delivery of the highest quality educational content, testing, and services that advance our students. We have no other priority. We serve the industry and are governed by a board of directors who support our mission without bias.
As a nonprofit, any earnings after costs are reinvested into course creation, updates, and delivery of services that directly benefit our students and industry. This was demonstrated during the second quarter of this year when we offered our Business Planning and Business Writing Courses for free in an effort to provide industry-wide access to content designed to help improve communication, adapt to change, and re-evaluate business strategy. We also use a percentage of our earnings each year for scholarships so that we can offer tuition assistance during July for our advanced certification courses and during October for our introductory course, TRIPKIT.
What is the primary focus of The Travel Institute today during these uncertain times for our great industry?
In addition to delivering both introductory and advanced curriculum, we are focused on listening and providing timely, relevant webinar topics in support of our students right now. So many individuals feel isolated these days so the need to connect with peers and work toward a common goal is stronger than ever. This is on display inside of our private CTA Study Group on Facebook with more than 800 students and graduates supporting each other through study and testing. It’s uplifting to see and actually feel their excitement when test scores are posted and everyone shares in that student’s joy and accomplishment. It’s an emotion that is needed as they work through issues like branding, understanding buyer psychology, and improving communication to better position their value statement as they prepare for—and encourage—the return of travel.
What advice would you give to travel professionals in today’s new and uncertain times?
Historically speaking, change always brings opportunity. So, my advice is to remain alert so that you are positioned to respond. Travelers will be more cautious and discerning about working with an expert. An agent’s credentials will certainly take center stage in this “new normal.” Agents will need to be good listeners and communicators. They will be asked to navigate and assess risk and must learn to be very clear in communicating responsibility when it comes to COVID-19 and a traveler’s personal safety. Preparing for that will mean personal rebranding for many as they explore their strengths and make sure they are positioned to convey real value to the market.
Are there any current programs offered by The Travel Institute that are “hot” right now?
The “hottest” products are the Certified Travel Associate, CTA, program; our TRIPKIT course for those who are new to the industry; and our Premium Access Lounge for those who want ongoing, on-demand training on a variety of topics including destination expertise for national and international locations, along with both evergreen and timely webinars led by our expert partners on topics such as professional selling, branding for business, emotional branding and more. Student interest in our content speaks to their desire for self-improvement and professionalism in all career stages and that is good news for both travelers and our industry.
We are so proud to have some of our books, How to Start a Home-Based Travel Agency Study Guide and Workbook, included in the TRIPKIT program. Are you seeing an uptick in new entrants to becoming a travel professional? If so, can you elaborate on why you feel that is the case right now?
Early on, we were concerned about how this pandemic would affect new entrants. Yet, there is still strong interest in starting a travel career as indicated by both attendance for our webinars AND actual TRIPKIT sales. It confirms for me that the role of travel agent will always be attractive for so many reasons and a career in travel won’t ever go away. It’s simply a matter of when travel will rebound—not if. In the meantime, many are using this time to learn and train and that is especially important when you are new to the industry.
If you could share your personal insight with our readers, what might you suggest they focus on during this unprecedented turn of events in our world?
During my 30+ years of travel industry experience, I’ve seen the resiliency of travel professionals time and again. I recommend travel professionals everywhere take on ANY new learning during this COVID crisis to see and prepare for the opportunities ahead. Doing so will advance them, their travelers, and our entire industry through and beyond the current crisis.
We cannot thank you enough for your time and your insight. Do you have any last words you may like to share with the readers of Travel Professional NEWS?
Most simply, I would say, keep the faith! It’s certainly a dramatic time in our industry and for many of our colleagues, it’s an unnerving time with so many unknowns. That said, I firmly believe travel will ultimately rebound, so we must pull our focus off of what we don’t have and look closely at what we do have—TIME. Take advantage of this rare downtime to make new connections, get organized, learn new destinations or markets, review business plans, and examine branding to be sure an image of difference is conveyed. Then, look at it as an exciting time to be part of history as we rise to overcome challenges, reimagine our future, and evolve to serve travelers everywhere.