By Cait Etherington February 20, 2017
Back in the 1960s, an intrepid young New Zealander, John Anderson, arrived in London with very little money and a thirst for adventure. Intent on exploring Europe and doing it with other young people, Anderson put a deposit down on a bus, found a bunch of young people to join him and set off on what would become the first Contiki travel tour. Over 50 years later, Contiki, which offers travel experiences for people ages 18 to 35, is still going strong, carrying over 150,000 young people to new locations every year on close to 60 distinct tours. One reason for the company’s success is that Contiki uses eLearning to train travel agents and other employees around the world. As a global enterprise, Contiki needs to reach employees in many locations and to roll out time-sensitive training. For this reason, the company has adopted eLearning as a way to achieve its training goals in a consistent manner and without any critical time delays.
ContikiU is being rolled out as part of the TTC Agent Academy, which is a broader eLearning initiative that trains all travel agents employed by The Travel Corporation (an umbrella travel business that includes Contiki, Uniworld, Trafalgar and Insight Vacations as well as several other niche brands). Each of the academy’s sequence of courses seeks to introduce one of the company’s brands and ensure that its agents understand the brand’s history, philosophy and target market; specific regions of operation; and contemporary issues facing travelers.
Notably, all of the TTC Agent Academy’s courses are available online in bite-size modules that can be completed in short spurts (e.g., in between serving clients at home or in transit). As stated in a press release issued by the company on February 7, “The TTC Agent Academy has been created with the aim of facilitating effortless sales, and the new eLearning platform offers a simplified manner in which agents can easily build their knowledge of the award-winning family of brands to make their roles more financially rewarding and to keep their clients coming back.” With agents operating around the world, it is also important for the company’s courses to be accessible 24/7. In this respect, ContikiU uses eLearning to train travel agents in a format that meets the agents in their own locations and on their own time.
There are eight types of tours that take place under the Contiki label. ContikiU uses eLearning to train travel agents to both promote and oversea each of these tours from camping, discovery, high energy, and winter and ski to sailing and cruise, short stay, easy pace and in-depth tours. While some tours are rustic and demanding on participants, others are a literal walk in the park. Whatever the focus, however, agents and guides need a wide range of skills and knowledge to fully respond to Contiki’s mission. Currently, the TTC Agent Academy is offering four introductory courses, but across its brands, the academy has plans to expand and to regularly update its course offerings. Notably, as an incentive, agents who complete the academy’s training courses also receive a certificate of accreditation at the end of each course.
There is no question that the TTC Agent Academy, including ContikiU, is a much-needed enterprise in today’s travel business. Agents and tour operators face complex compliance, political, economic and security concerns. Heightened compliance and insurance regulations, shifting political situations, terrorist attacks, fluctuating currency and unclear visa requirements all make planning travel and traveling an ongoing challenge. Jake Saunders, an U.S. born travel guide who primarily works in France, explains: “You don’t know what you’re going to face as you cross borders these days. If you have an international group of travelers, and I usually do, you also need to anticipate that depending on what passports people are carrying, there will be delays. I am always planning ahead.” In other words, travel agents and guides need to understand what is happening around the world and be able to respond to travelers’ needs (often on-the-spot using their prior knowledge and good judgement) while keeping an open mind and asserting the value of travel. ContikiU uses eLearning to train travel agents to stay on top of their game wherever they are based and even when they are working on the road.