Closing the skills gap: There can be no success without a culture of learning

During a session at the African Business Travel Association’s annual conference at the Protea Hotel Hunters Rest, held on November 7, Natalie Swart, executive manager at the Travel Training Academy (TTA), presented her vision for how the skills gap in the industry can be closed.

“TTA was formalised in 2015, who saw that there was a lack of skills in the travel industry,”Swart  said. Natalie Swart said they noticed that the human element is lacking, perhaps due to technology driven trainng. She said that technical skills are taking the place of the traditional, face-to-face travel consulting skills.

“This is something we would lie to change,” Swart said. “Companies need to embrace learning as a culture, and without this there will be no success.”

Swart also pointed out how much pressure is placed on travel consultants in today’s world. “I don’t think I would cope as a travel consultant today,” she said. “Today, there isn’t even the time to manage our time. It’s email after email after email. I don’t have the time to get to know my customer.”

According to Swart, consultants are becoming ‘order takers’, because the work load has increased so dramatically. This has led to the skills needed to effective sell travel having diminished. “Sales as a culture for consultants in non-existent. We are now transaction focussed, prioritising quantity of quality.”

An added level of difficulty for consultants these days is how informed customers have become. “Sometimes, the customer knows more than the consultants. They want convenient, seamless trips. How do we do that without getting to know the customers?”

Being so transaction focussed is leading to a breakdown in the relationship between different industry players. Swart said that at the moment, travel bookers are having to pick up on where the consultants or suppliers are lacking. “From a TMC perspective, suppliers come in to see the consultants and get ignored, because they don’t have the time to engage with the supplier properly,” she said. And they should really be our biggest partners, working with us.”

TTA offers a few courses to try and improve the skill level of travel consultants. Swart explains that they teach ‘the art of consulting,’ something that is necessary because consultants, she says, are learning bad habits from senior consultant. “They are doing the same thing every day and the new staff are picking up on that. So we are trying to re-emphasise a back-to-basics approach, teaching them how to consult.” This is essential, Swart addsed, because at the end of the day the customer is still paying a fee for the service.

The also offer interactive and practical sessions, which are personalised to the specific needs and challenges of those attending the courses. “We base the course on what is relevant to you at the time,” she said. “We make it bespoke to the people actually in the room.” TTA also puts an emphasis on creating entrepreneurs within the industry, by moving consultants away from being order-takers, and turning them into competent, exceptional sales people.

Interactive and practical sessions – what we do is stand in the room, say to people what are your issues, challenges. We base the course on what is relevant to you at the time. We make it bespoke to the people in the room.

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