Our Industry’s ‘Newest’ Normal: Not So New

More than once during this pandemic, I’ve talked about how advanced education has been experiencing a significant uptick in demand. This is true across many industries with trending internet search terms such as online degree, online program, online course coupled with industry-specific terms like nursing, photography and, of course, travel. Analyzing student activity since March, enrollment in our Certified Travel Associate, or CTA, program—often dubbed a “degree in travel”—has more than doubled compared to the same period last year. This stat represents continued grit and determination on the part of agents everywhere seeking to grow during this crisis by improving tactical skills, critical thinking, problem solving, and creativity as they adapt to change and retool their future.

This got me thinking … The concept of travel agents seeking proficiency and professionalism is certainly not a pandemic-specific trend or even at all “new.” The Travel Institute was founded on this principle as a non-profit, collaborative effort in 1964 by a group of industry executives representing travel agencies, airlines, hoteliers, and tour operators. The group worked in cooperation with Michigan State University to develop a certification program that would develop stronger, more agile business people. Founded during a period of dramatic industry change, one of the founders, George G. Brownell, CTC, was concerned “high-speed” computers would replace order takers and ticket clerks. Brownell 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.

As our industry again faces dramatic change and adjusts to yet another “new” normal, travel professionals are focused on rebranding, understanding buyer psychology, and improving communication to better position their value statement to prepare for—and encourage—the return of travel. Yet, there remains minimal entry barriers for a travel agent profession, with language such as “no education or experience required” used to attract new talent. Replace those words with “you can wing it with real money at stake,” or “on the job training with real traveler itineraries,” and it is obvious not just anyone can be a travel professional. This current time of great change is again accentuating that point.

Over the years, we have cherished long-term partnerships with many organizations, including schools, agencies, hosts, and others who utilize our content to prepare students and staff to meet the short and long-term challenges our industry never ceases to provide. We constantly evolve our content and programs to support advancing travel professionals. The question for agents not investing in their education is “Are you here to stay?” If your answer is “yes,” how are you preparing for the newest normal?  Are you connecting and learning from your peers, suppliers, agency, or host during this time? Are you considering certification? If so, why not do it now when scholarship assistance is available?

I applaud travel professionals everywhere who are taking on ANY new learning during this COVID crisis to see and prepare for the opportunities ahead. Doing so will advance you, your travelers, your organizations and our entire industry through and beyond the current crisis.

Stay safe and keep learning,

Diane Petras, CTIE, President, The Travel Institute