My guess is that more than a few of you have attended at least a
couple classes at a travel school. A year ago, however, you might
have found the choices slim. After Sept. 11, travel school
enrollment plunged. Long-established, high-quality travel programs,
like California’s Academy of the Pacific, closed their doors.
Others usually at value-priced community colleges found their
offerings whittled down to nearly nothing. No future in travel, the
administrators said, reflecting public opinion.
Why did this happen? Travel schools turned out to be bellwethers
for the public’s perception of our business. Sept. 11 and its
aftermath led people to believe that the travel and hospitality
industries had permanently collapsed. The public also seemed to
think that online agencies were taking over that some mega-computer
disguised as a lawn gnome was doing the work that people used to
Abruptly, however, it all changed about a year ago. For those
programs that survived, enrollments suddenly spiked upward. The
trend has continued and even accelerated. As I write this,
pre-enrollment for the travel program where I teach at West Los
Angeles College is about 60 percent ahead of last semester’s
So what’s going on? I think the answers to that question are
important to us. They reveal a lot about our business right
The most obvious: The love affair between our business and the
public is back. People are again bullish on travel, and this
reversal is prompting many people to look at travel careers in a
fresh way. We’re not just talking about 18-year-olds, either. The
majority of our students at WLAC are career-changers willing to
shave their salaries a bit to do something that can be rewarding
and fun. This trend toward career-changers has two sides, though.
The good part: These people come with ready-made experience and
skills, right at a time when agencies are struggling to find good
personnel. The bad: They’re unlikely to solve the pending, massive
retirement of baby-boomer-aged agents that currently dominate the
Also, the public has figured out that automation doesn’t
necessarily reduce job opportunities. Once almost a secret, the
fact that Travelocity, for instance, employs 1,200 travel agents to
sell packages and resolve problems, has become more widely
publicized. The gnome isn’t alone.
Perhaps the most intriguing factor, however, is the rise of the
home-based agent, especially those who are newbies. Even the best
host agencies find it difficult to provide them with training. And
on-the-job, apprentice-like learning doesn’t go on in the
spare-bedroom office. So CLIA, the Travel Institute,
forward-thinking suppliers and DMOs and, yes, travel schools, are
taking up the slack.
I’m often asked, “Why do you keep teaching?” While my industry
endeavors keep me busy, there’s no better feeling than sharing what
you know with a classroom full of students who passionately want to
find their way to a different, more interesting future. In fact, my
introductory travel class last semester was the best I’ve had in a
Quit teaching? No way.
Dr. Marc Mancini’s Geography Bowl Challenge is a regular
feature of TravelAge West. He resumes teaching this month when West
Los Angeles College launches its spring semester.