The Travel Agent Next Door (TTAND) is the recipient of The Travel Institute’s 2023 Educational Excellence Award for the travel industry.
Established in 2022, the award recognizes organizations and individuals that demonstrate a significant, ongoing commitment to quality education for travel advisors and make a substantial, meaningful investment to ensure delivery of education to the ultimate benefit of travelers and the industry.
The award was presented to TTAND at the host agency’s annual VIP Supplier Event at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel in downtown Toronto on Thursday night (Nov. 9), with Rhonda Stanley, TTAND’s vice-president of talent development, accepting the award.
“Congratulations to Rhonda and the entire training team at The Travel Agent Next Door; they have developed a winning program that supports their business, agents, suppliers, and very importantly, travelers,” said Diane Petras, CTIE, president of The Travel Institute, strategic travel education partner to TTAND, in a statement.
(Petras made a surprise appearance at Thursday night’s event to present the award).
“I applaud TTAND’s emphasis on ensuring qualified advisors to meet the ever-evolving needs of our industry; it’s truly a privilege to recognize and celebrate their success,” Petras stated, citing TTAND’s comprehensive approach for agent education at various career stages, measurable objectives, and a holistic focus on business needs as well as agent well-being as key factors in the decision.
The judging of the award, Petras told PAX last night, is without bias – she, and her staff, aren’t allowed to vote on a winner.
The decision is left in the hands of a judging panel (a group of professional educators and members of The Travel Institute board), who choose a winner “based on merit,” she said (because the panel can’t see the names of the organizations while reviewing each application).
The Travel Institute, which serves all of North America, aims to “set a standard” in education, training, certification and testing, Petras explained.
What TTAND does is blend The Travel Institute’s content with its own, resulting in a unique product “that can’t be duplicated,” she said.
All part of the mission
Stanley has long been vocal about the value of agent education and credits it as a key factor in TTAND’s impressive growth since launching in 2014.
“Everything we do ties to our mission, which is to provide more programs, more systems, and more support to ensure our ICs’ have limitless opportunities to grow their businesses,” Stanley said in a statement. “It’s an honour to receive this award from The Travel Institute as the long-time leader in agent education, and affirmation of the critical role our agent education truly plays in the success of our ICs.”
One thing that Petras appreciates about Stanley’s approach is the way she organizes study groups for agents who are doing their CTA (Certified Travel Associate) certification.
Independent study, while working from home, requires a lot of motivation, which “Rhonda recognizes,” Petras said.
“She puts together study groups so all the agents go through it together.”
Speaking with PAX Thursday night, Stanley added:
“I've been in the industry for 45 years,” she said. “I know how this industry has changed and how it has grown – particularly the IC model. Just because somebody wants to be in the travel, business, doesn't always mean they should be in the travel business. There's a lot to know and education is such a critical part.”
With that, “There's never been a better opportunity in travel than now,” Stanley added.
“There are more customers looking for professional travel agents,” she said. “And agents are busier than they've ever been, earning more money than they've ever earned. But you have to know what you're doing.”
“This is not just about having a title. This is about having the background, the knowledge, the certification and being able to do the job better. I feel that's what we do, and that's what I'm most proud of.”
A $600,000 investment
TTAND says it invests more than $600,000 annually in training in addition to a robust training staff, which includes full-time instructors and support staff.
With internal, proprietary training efforts comprising 70 per cent of TTAND’s efforts, the company’s new agent training also utilizes TRIPKITSM, The Travel Institute’s award-winning new agent training, while TTAND’s experienced agents are encouraged to earn The Travel Institute’s Certified Travel Associate, CTA, and Certified Travel Industry Executive, CTIE, programs, partially subsidized by TTAND.
“Whether an agent has been in the industry for one year or thirty years, seeing them complete their certification is inspiring. It takes commitment, dedication, and discipline and that is exhilarating for all of us,” Stanley stated, noting nearly 150 TTAND ICs have earned certification in the past five-plus years.
The Travel Institute’s Guida Botelho, CTIE, senior director of education, collaborates with Stanley and team on their education plan annually.
According to Botelho, “The Travel Agent Next Door is passionate about education and they are undoubtedly more successful because of that,” she said, reiterating The Travel Institute’s 2023 Changing Face of Travel Agents survey also links agent education and success.
On hand as Stanley received the award, TTAND’s founder Flemming Friisdahl, who is also Stanley’s spouse, emphasized many factors impact TTAND’s growth and success.
“It takes a village to create the relationships, programs and success we’ve achieved. Our team acknowledges our many strategic partners—including The Travel Institute for education; supplier partners for amazing products; and, of course, our agent partners, who believe in our business model—they all play a role in our shared success,” Friisdahl stated.
The Travel Institute’s Educational Excellence Award acknowledges the critical, and positive impact of education ongoing for the travel industry community, including for front-line travel advisors, management, and executive leaders, while also furthering higher educational and professional standards for individual organizations and the industry alike.
Last year’s inaugural award winner was ACE, the largest group of AAA Clubs.
Calls for nominations take place each January with judging based on utilization of quality educational content/programming, ongoing investment, and overall impact.