Is there a future for travel agents? It’s a question that is often asked, and for good reason. For many years the travel agent profession was on the decline. Agents were struggling to keep up with the rate of technology development in the travel industry. If they were not able to adapt they were left behind. Many quality agents were forced to close up shop; and the agents remaining, those carrying the whole of the profession, were starting to age. Retirement was looming for many. Who would surface to carry the torch of the travel agent?
Against all fears, the travel industry has seen a renewed interest in becoming a travel agent. These eager new prospects have emerged, in part, because of host agencies that recognized the need to develop new travel professionals. Early on, Uniglobe Travel Center (UTC) realized that in order to survive, this industry needed an infusion of new blood. Gone are the days of getting hired with no experience at a brick-and-mortar travel agency and learning on the job. We have entered a world of technology so advanced, that being a remote worker is now a reality. But if you work remotely, how do you learn? Uniglobe not only took on the responsibility of supporting the next wave of agents, but also coaching them how to be travel agents, and specifically how to be good travel agents! They did this by pioneering a comprehensive mentorship program.
The MentorU program is what Uniglobe believes is one of their greatest strengths. They devoted large amounts of time and resources over the past 7 years to develop and perfect a program that helps new agents navigate the industry. This program does not just rely on online classes, books, and Power Point presentations. They combine those things with live mentoring from the best the industry has to offer. These Mentors are former front-line agents who now focus on raising up the next generation of travel agents. Not only do the Mentors guide new agents through the research and booking process, but they also help build a sustainable business and marketing plan for their agency.
Betting on Millennials.
Uniglobe understands this may be the biggest gamble, but they are willing to take the risk. Millennials often get a bad rap as being unfocused, entitled, and lazy. But what Uniglobe has found is that millennials can be innovative, passionate, and willing to lead and inspire. If the industry is looking for a spark to keep it alive, millennials can start a wildfire if nurtured properly. Most travel agents now work remotely, and that is music to a millennials ears, especially those who love to travel. More than salary and status, they value independence and meaningful work. There are very few things in life that inspire more than travel, and millennials want to be a part of that. They are ready to take the torch and get creative in an industry that is long overdue for some innovation. Uniglobe hopes to help direct that wildfire and contribute to a sustainable industry as a whole.
One move Uniglobe has taken to attract younger talent has been the addition of Sales and Marketing manager, Summer Corbitt. When she was hired the office dubbed her the “token millennial,” a title Summer embraced, “I know some people my age can get a little sensitive about that term, but for me, I’m proud of what my generation has to contribute. I love being able to bring a fresh perspective, and everyone at Uniglobe has not only embraced my ideas, but have been excited to implement them!” With a millennial marketer on board, a large emphasis has been placed on Social Media. They will always aim to maintain a balance of traditional marketing, because it’s important to keep what’s working, but social media is becoming a larger and larger factor in the consumer’s buying decision. It’s something Uniglobe is embracing and promoting, not just in their own marketing, but also in agent development.
If an agent has all the clients they can handle, that’s great! But the majority say they want more business. New agents especially need multiple marketing outlets in order to build up their client-base. For older agents, they just don’t feel comfortable trying to create social media marketing opportunities on their own. Uniglobe is trying to take a little of that fear out of the process and show them what is possible in the social sphere. Following a recent social media webinar given by Summer, one Uniglobe agent said she always thought social media ads were out of her reach until she watched the webinar and saw all of the possibilities. Summer strongly believes that this marketing medium can be a great equalizer. “Social media is one of the only places that an independent business owner can compete with larger companies. Sure, they can’t reach as many people, but they don’t need to. Social media allows agents to target their perfect customer in a cost-effective way.”
For younger agents that grew up on social media, they still need direction. Admittedly they do have a leg up by being part of the social media generation, but that doesn’t mean that know how to translate their social media skills into marketing a business. With Summer taking the lead on educating current agents, Uniglobe hopes to translate social media marketing into sales for agents of any age.
Do non-millennial travel agents still have a seat at the table?
The reality is that many people are drawn to this career as their retirement career, or maybe even mid-life career change, and Uniglobe recognizes that. The beauty of the mentorship program, with live coaches, is that they can adapt the learning process to fit travel agents at any stage of their life.
Experienced Agents will always have a seat at Uniglobe’s table because their knowledge and experience cannot be replicated. Seventy-five percent of UTC travel agents have been with the organization for over 5 years. Once they join, they don’t leave, because they feel just as valued and appreciated as the new agents coming in. Uniglobe would not be the company it is today without the blood, sweat, and tears of their agents who stuck it out through some hard times in the industry. Uniglobe has seen that low point, fought through it, and is committed to keeping those loyal agents happy and successful, because they deserve it.
While always valuing veteran agents, Uniglobe is betting on millennials because they are not only important to the growth of the industry internally, but also as travelers. They are consumers who are at the stage in life where they are starting to have discretionary income to spend, and they love to spend it on travel. Successful agents recognize the power of the millennial buyer and are courting them for their business. Uniglobe’s strategy of bringing in youthful agents helps the established agents to understand this demographic better. What better way to learn how to sell to millennials than to talk to a millennial directly? There is an incredible knowledge share that goes on in the UTC organization. Not only new agents sharing innovative ideas, but veteran agents taking “newbies” under their wing and helping them launch their own businesses. This is why Uniglobe feels that their annual conference is so important to attend, because it is the perfect time to meet other agents and build those relationships. Relationships are essential to this business and especially valued at Uniglobe.
Doubling down on what they do best.
Superior support is the cornerstone of Uniglobe’s identity, and that is something they will continue to make a priority. The support team is led by Associate Vice President, Susan Garza. She has been in the industry 35 years and with Uniglobe Travel Center since their inception 20 years ago. Agents would be hard-pressed to find a more knowledgeable and caring advocate for them. Following Susan’s example, each and every member of the UTC support staff cares about the agents in the Uniglobe family; because that is the way this host agency views themselves, as a family. They will undoubtedly help you find a solution to your problem, but first they may ask about your kids, or your house renovation, or your latest vacation. It’s become a joke at the Uniglobe office that if you don’t want that warm and fuzzy feeling about your host, then don’t join Uniglobe.
The core of Uniglobe Travel Center has, and will always be, relationships. This is a precedent set and maintained by UTC Vice President, Betsy Geiser. She is a passionate advocate for this industry and her agents. She understands the importance of relationships with suppliers, with agents, and with industry organizations. “It doesn’t matter if you’re new in the business, or have been in the business for a long time. Everybody needs somebody to have their back, and that’s what Uniglobe Travel Center does” says Betsy. “We’re very relationship based. It’s not just a business, we care about each other.”
Winning is about sustainability.
Uniglobe understands that there is no point in bringing in new agents if you cannot provide them with a foundation to be successful in the long term. Business Development Manager, and UTC Mentor, Carol Fullmer explains the approach Uniglobe follows in creating lasting travel agents. “We take a ‘teach a man to fish’ philosophy when it comes to marketing and business development. For instance, we don’t provide leads because we want new agents to learn how to consistently bring in clients and do that by building their own unique branding.” The same is true of the booking process. “We often find agents wanting a consumer booking engine on their site, but that doesn’t differentiate a travel agent from the next website. What reason would a client have to use you? Or even if they did, why would they use you again? We want travel agents to be actual people who care about their clients. It’s about building a relationship with your client, providing a superior experience, and developing the loyalty that brings those travelers back again and again.”
Uniglobe Travel Center has a long and respected history in the hosted industry and they plan to continue that legacy. They believe the key to sustainability for themselves, and their agents, is two-fold. The first part is staying true to the values that have served them so well for the past 20 years by associating with the highest quality of travel agents, providing superior support, and always remembering this is a relationship business. The second is taking the lead, and sometimes the risk, in ushering in the next era of travel agents. If the travel agent profession is to survive, and even thrive, it will require the unwavering commitment and support of not only host agencies like Uniglobe Travel center, but the travel industry as a whole.