Comment: Schemes to support new talent are vital

Miles Morgan Travel chairman Miles Morgan hails the importance of programmes that nurture the next generation

Now here is a question for you: what makes a good travel agent? It’s a question to which 10 different people might give you 10 different answers, but there would likely be some common themes among them.

On the softer side, a bubbly, outgoing personality and a trustworthy, reassuring face are solid traits, coupled with the sales ability to close an enquiry. Then of course there is product knowledge, which might just be the hardest element given the product is the world and product types are plentiful too.

As a general rule for me, the softer elements are the essentials and the rest can be trained over time. But why am I asking this, you might wonder? When I started Miles Morgan Travel 17-plus years ago, most of our recruits came from Tui or Thomas Cook – people looking to work in a smaller company.

But the landscape has changed drastically over the years and such people are much harder to find these days, which is why programmes and schemes that aim to train those who are new to the industry without experience are essential.

This month at MMT we are celebrating the third year of our version of this programme, which we call Rising Stars. Other companies might refer to this as their new-to-travel or apprenticeship scheme. With each year we have fine-tuned the programme’s content to make it as valuable to those participating in it as it is to us, and most importantly, we have learnt what to look for in the new starters embarking on their travel careers.

First impressions

Whether they were baristas, lifeguards or worked in the VAT office, the key ingredient is always personality. You make up your mind about someone you meet within 60 seconds, or something crazy like that. It’s therefore crucial that the smile is wide and the greeting is genuine when starting out somewhere new.

I would encourage anyone to introduce this kind of programme into their business if they’re not already doing so

Of course, you expect these people to be a tad nervous when they walk through the door for their interview, but you have to feel that warmth of personality that your future customers would be greeted with. A fantastic measure I like to use, which you might not have thought of before, is whether you could imagine yourself going for a drink with someone down the local pub when you meet them. If the answer is yes, then they must be a good fit! It may sound like an odd measuring stick but trust me, it works.

Taste of the industry

The most recent programme was the best yet. We introduced educationals into the mix with huge success. A little short-haul break to Majorca and a mini cruise gave our cohorts an exciting taste of the industry and helped them understand basic things like the difference between a four and five-star hotel and whether it’s worth the extra money; plus what a cruise cabin actually looks like and how big the shower is. These things are much easier to understand when experienced first-hand, fast-tracking the rising stars’ progress.

The success of these people has been quite stunning. It has been incredible to see so many of them drop the word ‘rising’ so soon into their development and simply become ‘stars’. Not only that, but they bring heaps of enthusiasm into the business because they are so hungry to learn.

I would encourage anyone to introduce this kind of programme into their business if they’re not already doing so, even those with just one shop. It may take a little bit of planning but don’t be put off by this because it will breathe life into your business and produce fantastic results. You’ll also be supported by suppliers who are always brilliant at assisting with training, and these days online webinars make life even easier when it comes to product and destination knowledge.

I love chatting to our amazing new recruits and I often have to remind myself that some of them were guarding a swimming pool not long ago!

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