Younger Agents Follow Their Passion

New agents coming from other industries use tech savvy to enhance businesses By: Marilyn Green
Young veterans of other industries bring fresh ideas to the travel agent industry. // © 2014 Thinkstock
Young veterans of other industries bring fresh ideas to the travel agent industry. // © 2014 Thinkstock

A new breed of agent has been moving into travel: a younger veteran of other industries who brings fresh ideas and has a high level of comfort with technology. Ambitious, with an outsider’s perspective that allows them to see where ideas can be improved, these newbies are buying and transforming agencies with new models.

However, Indeed — a job website that attracts 140 million unique visitors monthly — lists the average travel agent salary as of October 2014 as $56,000, two percent lower than the overall average for jobs in the U.S. And the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics estimate is even lower: As of May 2013, a travel agent salary is listed $17.88 an hour or $37,200 a year.

So why are young people gravitating toward careers in travel?

MayLynn Klein, business development manager and new agent trainer for Ticket to Travel in San Jose, Calif., says the draw for many people coming from the corporate world is that they are tired of 9-to-5 jobs and of working where their creative ideas are neither welcomed nor fostered. In addition, these individuals have a passion for travel. Klein adds that social networking-savvy and communications know–how are attributes often found in young people that are assets in the travel industry.

Jason Olson, president of Cruise Holidays in Redding, Calif., exemplifies the new breed of agents. Olson grew up in the tech hub of Silicon Valley and found success launching businesses in technology. Though he felt satisfaction from his work, it was not the kind of happiness he gets from travel.

“We were using technology to fix problems, but nobody came home thrilled or sent flowers,” says Olson. “Now I’m helping people live their dreams, and I still problem-solve, but both of us — my client and I — are laughing all the way. I’m utilizing a lot of skills in a way that brings me joy.”

Olson says he finds it easy to approach what technology can and can’t do, whereas many more experienced agents are afraid of new technology and are threatened by it.

Brad Anderson, co-president of Avoya Travel in San Diego, Calif., sees intangibles as a factor in attracting new agents.

“Planning travel and doing it are still fabulously fun things to do,” he says. “We attract people who think about what’s going to make them happy in life. These younger people who are coming from other industries know that ‘sales’ isn’t a bad word. They believe that closing the sale is in the best interests of the client — helping them to make the best decision for their money and time.”

Anderson says that these newcomers don’t understand when older agents complain and talk about how it was in the “good old days.”

“They aren’t burdened with that old baggage,” Anderson says. “What they bring from past experience is the understanding of the Internet and social media.”