INSIGHTS
Travel agencies need to give seasonal staff a flying start with effective onboarding

The tourism industry has well and truly bounced back from the challenges of the pandemic, and both online and in-person travel agencies are thriving. But as vacations become more expensive and customers expect a higher level of service before they spend their hard-earned cash, quality sales training for travel consultants is more important than ever.

So how do you deliver engaging and valuable training without resorting to expensive and time-consuming workshops? AI-powered solutions could be the answer.

The travel and tourism industry suffered during the pandemic, but our love of travel has brought it back to pre-pandemic levels in just a couple of years1. UK holiday-goers made 86.2 million trips abroad in 2023 compared to 71.0 million the year before, and spent an extra £13.9 billion doing it2.

We all love a summer holiday, and travel agencies typically make up for the increase in demand at this time of year by hiring temporary consultants. But of course, you can’t just give new staff a desk and a headset and let them crack on. They need proper onboarding and training to provide the quality of service customers expect when they come to a travel agent. That’s where agencies are struggling – finding the balance between onboarding seasonal staff quickly while providing the level of training they need to succeed.

Travel agencies are still going strong

Before we dig into that challenge properly, let’s address the elephant in the room. In an age where anyone can go online and book every part of their holiday themselves, do people really still want to talk to a human being during the process? The answer is that they absolutely do.

A 2023 survey found that nearly half of Americans use travel agencies to book their vacations, and – most surprisingly – the groups that prefer heading into a brick-and-mortar agency are Millennials and Gen Z3. You read that right – the most chronically online generations are forgoing online deals and seeking in-person support for their travel plans.

But it’s not just in-person agencies that offer that human touch. Online agencies still have customer service staff just a phone call or live chat message away, allowing holidaymakers to get advice from an expert from the comfort of their own homes.

There are probably a few reasons travellers are opting to outsource when it comes to booking vacations. It’s no secret that the price of everything is going up, including travel. If people are going to spend thousands on their trip, it makes sense to get advice from a real-life expert first. On top of that, consumers want convenience. Often going through a consultant means that everything from flights to dinner reservations can be taken care of in one step with minimal effort, saving time and energy.

Meeting the demand

So we’ve established that travel agencies, whether in-person or online are still very much alive and well. But with travel fluctuating seasonally, they have to stay agile to meet demand in the summer without overspending on staff in the off-seasons.

To solve this problem, many travel agencies opt to hire seasonal consultants in the busy summer months. One agency I spoke to recently told me it brings in up to 500 extra agents every year to keep up with demand.

Hiring on this seasonal basis definitely makes sense for the sector, but the key to its success lies in the quality of the onboarding process. Seasonal staff often have a lot to learn to help them hit the ground running, so travel agencies have to find the balance between delivering a large quantity of information and maintaining the quality of the training so that staff retain their knowledge and can deliver the service customers expect.

The sales challenge

For many agencies, finding this balance can mean that some topics aren’t covered in as much detail as they would like during the onboarding process. In particular, sales training is often covered in just one day of a week-long induction, despite selling being a core part of a travel consultant’s job.

That’s because sales training is often outsourced to external training providers who come with a hefty price tag. The alternative – traditional computer-based training – just won’t cut it when it comes to the skills consultants need to sell (and upsell) at the rate agencies expect.

These companies need training solutions that:

  • Keep learners engaged
  • Reflect the varied nature of the travel and tourism industry
  • Provide accurate feedback
  • Can be repeated consistently to accelerate speed to competence

Embracing a virtual solution

Rapid developments in artificial intelligence and virtual learning environments could mean that one-off, face-to-face sales training becomes a thing of the past for onboarding travel consultants.

AI-powered avatars could allow new staff to experience realistic scenarios with virtual ‘customers’, allowing them to practice sales conversations as many times as they need, with instant feedback that flags missed opportunities for upselling or an extra customer service touch.

Bespoke platforms make it easier than ever for companies to customize their own training solutions with their brand and unique processes, so they can maintain high-quality onboarding training while minimising the time and money spent training new staff with traditional methods.

Experts predict that the travel and tourism industry will continue to grow at a rate of almost 6% per year over the next decade4. If agencies want to stay competitive as the industry grows, they need to continue to enhance their service to ensure it’s preferable to booking directly.

Advances in game-based and virtual training capabilities mean that it’s easier than ever to deliver a learning and development strategy that meets the tourism industry’s ever-changing needs. I’m looking forward to seeing how travel agencies embrace these opportunities over the coming years.

Are you ready to level up your training?

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Sources

    1. UN Tourism (2024). International tourism to reach pre-pandemic levels in 2024 [online], Available at unwto.org/news/international-tourism-to-reach-pre-pandemic-levels-in-2024 (Accessed June 2024)
    2. Office for National Statistics (2024). Travel trends: 2023 [online], Available at ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/leisureandtourism/articles/traveltrends/2023 (Accessed June 2024)
    3. IBS Software (2023). Surprising trends among the youngest travelers as 47% of Americans turn towards travel agents to book their holiday travel [online], Available at ibsplc.com/news/survey-surprising-trends-among-the-youngest-travelers-as-47-of-americans-turn-toward-travel-agents-to-book-their-holiday-travel (Accessed June 2024)
    4. McKinsey & Company (2023). The future of tourism: Bridging the labor gap, enhancing customer experience [online], Available at mckinsey.com/industries/travel-logistics-and-infrastructure/our-insights/future-of-tourism-bridging-the-labor-gap-enhancing-customer-experience (Accessed June 2024)