Boomtime for Travel Schools

Dr. Marc Mancini 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 th

By: Dr. Marc Mancini

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 do.

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 pace.

So what’s going on? I think the answers to that question are important to us. They reveal a lot about our business right now.

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 field.

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 decade.

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.
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