Agents across the UK have been trying to adjust to a travel industry on pause since early March – and while some have been inundated with enquiries and cancellations, many have been furloughed and unable to work. However, furloughed workers are allowed to undertake job-related training – and figures show that agents have been demonstrating their commitment by doing this in their droves.

Numbers on the up

In April alone, the Cayman Islands Department of Tourism reported a massive 3271% increase in completed trainings compared with the same time last year, and a 600% increase since the previous month.

Regional Manager for Cayman Islands Department of Tourism Europe Adrian White said: “During this difficult time for the industry, we’ve seen a huge increase in successfully completed courses. The recently updated Cayman Islands training modules are designed to inspire and motivate agents, as well as offer the educational tools needed to sell our destination once travel restrictions have been lifted.”

Shahab Shayan, Senior Manager, UK & Ireland for Dubai Tourism: “At Dubai Tourism we recognise the importance of engaging with our agents, especially at a time when travel restrictions are in place. The Dubai Expert programme enables agents to learn about Dubai via a game and we have a number of virtual tours, interactive maps and assets available for agents to access and explore.”

Dubai is one of many destinations which are running trade webinars, in its case with key tour operator partners - allowing agents to join live training sessions with the UK trade team.

Going interactive

There has been significant rise in the number of webinars available to agents since the pandemic put travel on hold.

Small World Marketing, a specialist representation company for a number of independently-owned boutique lodges and hotels in Africa, has been hosting webinars for around 10 years. Founder, Anita Powell, does it to ensure trade partners are up to date on her clients and in order to reach a wider audience. Normally this is supplemented with face-to-face meetings at offices and trade shows, but Anita has taken to hosting her webinars once a week (instead of once a fortnight because demand for learning has increased so much, and attendance at her webinars has more than doubled since lockdown. 

The travel trade team at Travel & Tourism Marketing (TTM) started offering daily virtual destination and product training to agents at the end of April, with a schedule covering clients ranging from Texas to Saudi Arabia’s AlUla. The training is delivered in person, by a dedicated account manager who can share personal experiences.  Numbers are limited to 10 agents per session to allow for really personal training and an in-depth Q&A session.

Neil Jones, Director TTM said: “We understand that knowledge and experience is one of the key reasons that consumers book through travel agents. In recent weeks we have seen a growing interest in training and realised that we can accommodate that interest with a simple online and interactive version of our usual ‘in-person’ training schemes.  We want to engage with informal, intimate and fun sessions to build knowledge of our destinations and answer questions.  Working together to inspire confidence to make informed recommendations to their clients, helping them to secure bookings.”

Further dates will be posted on TTM’s Facebook page. Agents can register their interest in particular sessions by email to Gemma Pearce on TTMSupport@ttmworld.co.uk.

The Bahamas Tourist Office says its webinars are ‘re-energising its travel agent training programme'. Iain Rodgers, Sr. Marketing Representative, said: “We hosted the first of our bi-weekly webinars on April 16 and feedback from participants was encouraging. Agents indicated the information they would like to see more of, such as best diving locations, wedding and honeymoon suggestions and luxury products, this is very helpful as we can incorporate this into the reinvigoration of our Bahamas training programme.” Agents can sign up for the agent training programme at bahamac.co.uk and for its webinars here.

The Grenada Tourism Authority (GTA) Trade & Community Manager Lisa Braithwaite is spearheading 10-minute one-to-one training webinars for agents, aiming to support those working from home for the first time.

GTA Director for the UK & Ireland, Sharon Bernstein, commented: “Maintaining and enhancing training for agents, in an fun and relaxed manner is imperative at a time like this. We want to equip them with the information they need to sell the islands with confidence once temporary travel restrictions are lifted.”

The Caribbean destination is also encouraging agents to check out the #GrenadaDreaming Spotify playlists and download its Zoom backgrounds and has launched the #GrenadaDreaming campaign to inspire and motivate future travel. Details of all this can be found by emailing uk@puregrenada.com.

Brand USA’s Insider Guide webinar series sees a different Brand USA representative take agents on a virtual American road-trip to discover must-see spots on a self-drive itinerary. Every webinar is followed by a virtual USA quiz with prizes up for grabs varying from USA puzzles and scratch maps to Amazon Firesticks which agents can use to watch the GoUSA TV app, its travel entertainment channel. Webinars take place every Thursday from 11 to 11.30am and agents must download the 'Kahoot!' app onto their phone prior to the quiz in order to take part and register.

Brand USA also encourages agents to sign up the USA Discovery Program, its interactive online training course which offers prizes to encourage agents to complete ‘badges’ and progress through the training.

Rise of the video

It’s no secret that pictures often speak louder than words, particularly in the age of Instagram, but destinations across the world are waking up to the power of moving image when it comes to inspiring people to travel – or sell travel. Since the lockdown destinations have scrambled to release video content and many have also used it to train agents.

Margaret Henriksson PR, was recently appointed to represent Visit Central Florida – a region between Orlando and Tampa never previously represented in the UK – and has been using video, as well as Zoom, as an effective training aid. Margaret said: “We’ve just been trying to be as proactive as possible to offer something to the trade as we can’t physically get out to train and we have good video content which brings the destination to life.”

Visit Central Florida’s YouTube channel has content showcasing everything from it sunspoilt lakes and wetlands to its citrus groves and cattle ranches, plus LEGOLAND Florida Resort.

The Macao Specialist online training programme has an agent toolbox where a series of five training videos, lasting between one and three minutes in length, showcase the Macao Peninsula and its southern islands, as well as its unique food scene and other key highlights.

New in travel training

The Algarve Tourism Bureau has reactivated its Online Travel Training (OTT) course, highlighting the Portuguese region’s hidden gems as well as its best beaches, castles and popular local cuisine. After learning about each topic there are a set of questions to test the agent’s knowledge.

The new Abu Dhabi Specialist programme is part of DCT Abu Dhabi’s response to the COVID-19 crisis, and face-to-face training grinding to a halt. Agents can learn about key attractions in Abu Dhabi, local events and accommodation options, as well as how to overcome booking barriers, put together tailored itineraries for different types of clients and insider tips from locals. Those that complete the Abu Dhabi Specialist programme could win one of 100 £50 Love2Shop vouchers, or the top prize of a five-star holiday for two to Abu Dhabi.

Agents can now gain an overview of Sandals properties as well as quality inclusions, weddings and honeymoons, rooms and suites and Luxury Included Resorts on its revamped training programme. Once agents complete the modules they are certified ‘Sandals Specialists’ and get access to benefits and incentives.

Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp (NCVC) has updated its training programme to include the tourism board's latest documentary 'It All Begins With A Song: The Story of the Nashville Songwriter'.

Agents can get to know Denmark, its landscape and its culture with the new Denmark Training programme. Modules include Danish Lifestyle, Denmark in Regions and Danish cities. There is also a specialist Copenhagen training programme.

Andorra Turisme has relaunched its OTT travel agent training. The revised training course details Andorra’s cultural traditions as well as modules on hiking, cycling, family holidays and how to get there.

Visit Guernsey has a five-module training course following the launch of its new brand and identity, ‘The Islands of Guernsey’. On completion of the course, agents will be entered into a prize draw to win a two-night trip to Guernsey, including return flights and accommodation at a four-star hotel.

The revised Key Lime Academy now features stand-out visuals and video content together with maps, and succinct and easy-to-remember slides of key destination information. On completion of a successful final test, graduates of the Key Lime Academy who meet the pass mark receive a personalised certificate. Agents can access its latest video content and other tools at its trade portal.

The Taiwan Tourism Bureau (TTB) has relaunched its programme with OTT. The eight modules include information on how to best sell Taiwan, the island's cultural heritage, culinary scene, festivals, adventure experiences and more. Each module ends with five questions to test agents’ knowledge.

The Barbados Elite Club is extending its training to include a third course showcasing the island's gastronomy. Upon passing course one of this training programme, agents receive a welcome gift. They can earn five points per room booking and five points per flight per person. Points can be redeemed for One4all gift cards.

Tourism Western Australia launched a Coral Coast Highway virtual fam trip this May, using VFam and Spinning Globe - a digital knowledge platform. Agents on the Coral Coast virtual fam will soar over Port Gregory, trek through gorges at Kalbarri National Park and enjoy snorkelling at Ningaloo Reef.

Agents that complete the new West Hollywood University training course will earn a West Hollywood University pennant, and will be entered into a draw to win a two-night stay at a West Hollywood hotel, dinner for two at one of the city’s trendy restaurants and a two-hour tour for two with Bikes and Hikes L.A.

The Japan National Tourism Organization’s (JNTO) new training course allows agents to discover Japanese food, traditions, scenery and lifestyle, as well as view Japan’s futuristic cities and what to expect when staying at a Japanese-style inn.

The Arizona Office of Tourism (AOT) has created the 'Arizona from A to Z', e-learning platform. Each of the five modules showcase key attractions across the state, covering themes like food, wellness, adventure and culture. Themed itinerary recommendations including Route 66, Arizona wine country and ways to explore Arizona’s many canyons, including the Grand Canyon.

The Belize Tourist Board has created a 10-module training programme to help agents get ready to sell the Central American destination. Modules focus on weddings, cruise excursions and learning about different regions such as the North Islands and the Southeast Coast.

The Kentucky Department of Tourism has created a series of educational videos for agents, covering its main attractions. Videos cover Kentucky’s culinary highlights, sporting stars, bluegrass music scene, horse farms and bourbon distilleries.

The Malta Tourism Authority has unveiled a new travel agent training webinar programme with planned training sessions running until December. It focuses on eight themes: Maltese Islands, Adventure, Scuba Diving, Wellness, Luxury, Gastronomy, History and Weddings.

Destination DC (DDC) has launched a global travel agent training programme - Washington, DC Special Agent Academy. Certified agents will receive a digital certificate and badge, be entered in monthly giveaways for DC memorabilia and can enter to win a slot on an upcoming fam trip.

The Saint Lucia Tourism Authority (SLTA) says around 3,000 agents have completed the Saint Lucia Expert (SLEx) training programme but it introduced a new weekly webinar series in May themed around the island’s key selling points, plus a new podcast series billed as a ‘holiday for your ears’, featuring award-winning broadcaster Jon Holmes and travel writer Antonia Windsor.

Travel representation and PR agency Black Diamond has launched a number of webinars for agents covering a range of the destinations it represents, such as Colorado, Seattle, Pittsburgh, Tahiti and California. Attendees can win prizes including wine and vouchers. The agency will also host client news and product updates, so agents can be kept up to date on the latest developments.