Written By: Jackie Friedman, President – Nexion Travel Group
Being a travel professional is a lot of fun; it’s also a lot of work. If you think you’ll ever know everything as a travel advisor, think again! The scope of knowledge needed to be truly successful is significant. One of the best ways to ensure you achieve the required knowledge skill base you’ll need is to focus on the things most important to your business and your customer base.
It’s easy to be an education junkie. There are so many supplier and destination training programs, FAM trip opportunities, etc., that if you take the time to do everything, there is no time left to work on and grow your business, nor to serve your clients. I always share with Nexion Travel Group members that it’s important to know more about less than less about more.
So, how do you go about doing that? Here are six tips I’d love to share with you:
1. Identify what you want to sell. What makes you happy? Where’s your passion? Are there particular suppliers or a travel style, such as wellness, that peak your interest?
2. Determine what you need to know to be successful selling that product/s. Once you’ve narrowed down your focus of what you want to sell, the next step is capturing what knowledge you’ll need to sell it. For example, if you want to focus on family/multi-generational travel, do your homework and choose a few cruise lines that cater to families. Find out what resorts are good for family as well as destinations. What are entry requirements for those locales? What advice should you give to families traveling with small children? Identifying everything you need to know is just a start, and your plan will be evergreen.
3. Pinpoint opportunities to obtain the necessary knowledge you identified in step 2. After identifying what you need to know, the next step is to make that training plan an action plan. What organizations provide the training you seek? Many consortias and host agencies, such as Nexion Travel Group, provide destination training, FAMs, supplier training and more, in person and through vast learning management systems containing self-paced learning opportunities. Convention and Visitors Bureaus and tourist boards also offer training experiences that allow you to experience products and destinations first hand. And industry associations, such as The Travel Institute, have a plethora of training opportunities for members, along with certifications for destination or niche specialists. The Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), for example, caters to travel advisors who sell cruises with fantastic training that includes experiencing the product through ship inspections. And the American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA), offers a Verified Travel Advisor certification that has a significant foundation on the ethics and legal requirements necessary to be part of the travel industry. I challenge you to choose at least one of these programs, if it makes sense for your business.
4. Set a budget for your training and take your development seriously. Investing in yourself takes time and money. Be sure to set aside funds for your professional and personal development. Then, ensure you get the most out of your training. Schedule it; stick to it. If you’re on a FAM, ensure you attend all the scheduled activities and get the most out of it by actively participating in site inspections. Write a FAM report, so you can refer to it. Treat FAM opportunities seriously and stay focused on what you want to sell.
5. Partner with a mentor. Is there a person you can turn to as a mentor that will give you practical experience guidance? Nexion, for example, has a formal mentorship program that brings together mentors and mentees with like-minded goals or specializations. In online communities, such as TravelProfessionalCommunity.com, you can learn from other travel advisors. I encourage you to use these vehicles respectively. When used properly, they serve as a great benefit because you can learn from the experience of others. Just show you’ve done your homework first before posting and share your experiences as well as asking for advice.
6. Put your plan in writing and establish goals. Once you’ve identified your development initiatives, write them down and establish realistic goals. I’ve seen so many training plans from travel agents before that are too aggressive, and therefore never get done. Your plan must be achievable. Don’t forget to schedule time to execute your development plan – both professionally and personally. And, include hard skills (product knowledge) and soft skills (presentation, communication, etc.) in your plan. In addition, I recommend including your desired outcomes in your training plan; don’t just write down the courses you want to take, but also include the outcome you wish to achieve by taking it. How will you apply your newly developed skills? And finally, ensure your development plan includes opportunities to build upon your strengths and not just overcome weaknesses.
I hope these six tips will help you in developing your personal development plan and set you up for success in 2019. Remember, knowledge is power!