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COMMENT: PROFESSIONAL TRAINING NEEDED IN AN AMATEUR WORLD

Date published 13.11.2017

IT IS a subject which has been debated for decades globally, without any industry-wide resolution. The travel trade has always operated without a formalised professional qualification and recognised training scheme operated and certified by a publicly credible industry body.

Training has traditionally been carried out on the job, with the general and legitimate opinion that there is no substitute for experience. Many large chains introduced their own in-house training schemes many years ago and franchise groups and ITC organisations have more recently adopted their versions. Valuable training is also provided by suppliers themselves, focused exclusively on their products and services.

Due to the dynamic nature of the travel business, ongoing training is essential to keep counsellors current with technical, regulatory and product issues and the need to provide a level of service and knowledge for clients, which they are unable to provide online for themselves, and enable agents to be the most productive and cost-effective source of business for suppliers.

But, to ensure the future of the retail industry, it is becoming increasingly evident and accepted that it is time to progress with some urgency to enhance the image, credibility and standing of travel agents in all categories through meaningful professional recognition.

The Association of Southern African Travel Agents’ Professional Programme is a start and Flight Centre, for one, has introduced a more generic training scheme. But they are a first step.

The financial and logistical challenges have always been a stumbling block, as has the perception that being an advisor on travel does not have the same gravitas and necessity to be seen as a professional in the same league as a lawyer, accountant or doctor. Tell that to a traveller, who has blown tens of thousands of rands on a failed or disappointing experience or whose family has been stranded through transport disruptions.

But suppliers now have many more options and ease of communicating directly with customers and travellers themselves have much more access and ease in sourcing holiday and business travel options and incentives from some suppliers in encouraging direct bookings.

In fact, futurists predict that even highly qualified professionals in law, finance and medicine will significantly reduce in numbers in the future as more and more solutions are automatically provided by the internet. The travel trade, already struggling to find ways of using the Internet to its advantage, rather than becoming a victim, needs to increase its value to travellers in every way possible. That requires training at every level, including entry level where college courses fail to succeed, in sales, customer service and customer care, monitoring and reporting, technical and other areas. Ironically, that can only be provided widely enough online.

The days of the amateur in a business role are over, even as amateurs increasingly serve themselves. Only those most recognised professionally will succeed in the self-service world of the future.


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