When the Center for Travel Marketing at Los Medanos College
recently held a seminar on how to succeed in today’s travel
industry, center director Kiran Kamath decided it should start with
a funeral in remembrance of the way things used to be.
So students and faculty dressed in black, carried candles into a
dark room and spent a half-hour mourning the death of the old
industry. Then the lights came on and the celebration began.
“There is not a sad day in our program,” said Kamath. “It
bothers me when industry organizations cry about the end of
commissions and sue the airlines. There should be no crying over
The changes that have swept through the industry with the end of
airline commissions and the advent of Internet retail are changing
the ways schools like the Pittsburg, Calif.-based Los Medanos
College educate travel agents.
Enrollment in schools that train travel agents has been down
since Sept. 11, due to fewer agents who have remained in business
and the financial restraints that have prevented agents from
getting more training.
Nevertheless, new curricula have been designed and new textbooks
written to keep pace with latest trends. Those training materials
aim to generate new revenue, as well offer a more positive outlook
on the travel agent industry.
Even some of the nation’s top schools of travel and tourism have
had to adapt. The University of Hawaii Travel Industry Management
School’s class on travel agency management has been changed to
examine the impact that technology and the Internet are having on
the buying and selling of travel.
“Before, it was more of a travel-agency management class,” said
Pauline Sheldon, interim dean of the school. “Now it is more like
distribution travel management.”
The Hospitality and Tourism Education Department at Kapiolani
Community College in Honolulu provides hands-on training on major
travel reservation systems like Sabre, Worldspan and Amadeus, as
well as the Internet.
“Computer technology is something we need to keep enforcing,”
said Ron Umehira, chair of the department. “At the same time, we
try to teach our students to be well rounded. We teach them to do
more than just book tickets.”
But the need for new skills is perhaps even more pronounced in
certification programs and seminars specifically geared toward
The Institute of Certified Travel Agents (ICTA) now updates the
curricula of its cornerstone travel agent programs, the CTA
(Certified Travel Agent) and CTC (Certified Travel Consultant),
every six months.
ICTA previously had been making revisions every two years, but
the pace of change in the industry required quicker revisions to
keep material relevant. Its program now includes classes on credit
card fraud prevention and selling travel insurance.
The education and training changes reflect salary statistics
that show travel agents, in recent years, have had to know more in
order to make more money.
Though the median salary for travel agents was reported by the
Bureau of Labor Statistics to be $25,150 in 2000, a survey by ICTA
found that agents with a CTC certificate earned an average of
$8,000 more a year.
The ICTA survey also found that agents who specialize in a
certain area of travel could make about 11 percent more than agents
without a specialty.
And trade industry organizations like ICTA, the American Society
of Travel Agents (ASTA) and the Cruise Line International
Association (CLIA) have adapted educational offerings to include
more specialization programs.
“Agents are being told that they need to specialize, that they
need more education,” said Connie Walsh, a director of sales with
ICTA. “We are seeing a large percentage of agents are embracing
this because they have to deal with a more sophisticated consumer
and compete with the Internet.”
Over the last two years, ICTA has introduced 11 programs for
agents who want to become specialists in specific destinations. It
is currently working on six niche courses that include lifestyle
segments such as selling to disabled travelers, selling to gay and
lesbian travelers, and selling spas. ICTA will also offer a niche
class on how to close Internet sales.
ASTA also offers home-study specialist courses that include
niche travel, family travel, and North American rail travel.
Destination specialization has also become popular and ASTA is
working out the details to hold two- to three-day conferences on a
destination that will take place at the destination being
ICTA, which provides educational materials to 20 licensed
schools, has also seen substantial demand in its destination
specialist programs since Sept. 11, while enrollment in its CTA and
CTC programs have decreased.
“One of the strongest trends we see is travel counselors trying
to carve out a niche,” Walsh said.
Walsh attributes the enrollment decreases in the CTA and CTC
programs to the financial hit the travel industry took after Sept.
Currently, the biggest growth areas, according to Walsh, are in
the number of new people entering the industry, who tend to be
midcareer people who are either looking for a second job or are
looking to switch careers altogether, and the growth of the
Enrollment in ASTA’s Future Travel Professional program is split
between older students looking for a new career and younger
students who might not necessarily become travel agents but who
have an interest in the hospitality industry, according to Ken
Walsh, director of membership at ASTA.
At the Center for Travel Marketing at Los Medanos College, an
ICTA-licensed school, enrollment has dropped by half since Sept.
Kamath attributes some of that drop to the sour perception in
the industry since the end of airline commissions.
“People need to work smarter not harder,” Kamath said.