MTA – Mobile Travel Agents this week unveiled to its home-based travel consultants a new in-house online accreditation program called ‘MTA Professional Plus‘. Three years in the making, the program has been designed to create a new level of professionalism, dovetailing in with calls made in 2014 by the Australian Federation of Travel Agents to improve the standard of learning of face-to-face consulting.
MTA Professional Plus is centred around a comprehensive set of learning “pathways” that provide the network’s members with the knowledge to be among the best travel professionals in the industry, at the same time teaching them about MTA’s systems, bookings tools, marketing, business development and compliance and social media. Other areas include legal and finance requirements, pathways many new home-based consultants may not be familiar with coming from a retail environment when they were required to primarily sell travel. There are also pathways focused on building product knowledge in the fields of Luxury, Land, Air and Cruise.
Each learning pathway consists of three levels, made up of written and practical components. As the program is online, it can continually be upgraded with the latest industry knowledge.
MTA Chief Executive Officer Don Beattie said the role of the travel advisor has changed over the years.
“I think it’s fair to say that the role of the travel advisor has changed over the years. It used to be you would go to your travel advisor because they had a lot more knowledge than you do about what product is available. Certainly, with things like the internet that has changed quite dramatically and what we see today is a plethora of information, so the role of the professional travel advisor has become one of a distiller of information, rather than a provider of what is available,” Beattie said.
“People now go to a travel advisor because they have the expertise, because they are a stylist and they know their customer really well, and because they become a trusted travel advisor to people who are aspirational and are wanting now to travel. The dynamics are quite different, so I don’t think the traditional order-taker has a place as easily today.”
MTA Professional Plus isn’t the first in-house platform the Gold Coast-based company has created since its inception in 2000. MTA has already developed and designed a mid- and back-office system for members, and has an assistance team that offers its consultants support should they take leave, “so they don’t miss out on any commissions whatsoever,” Beattie explained. Members are also provided individual websites, not just a landing page, and they are offered 24/7 support.
Aside from increasing knowledge and lifting MTA member professionalism, the newly launched platform will enable those who successfully complete the program with the ability to market themselves as an ‘MTA Certified Travel Professional’ and welcomed to invitation-only events across all areas of the industry.
“The assessment process is quite rigorous, containing both theoretical and practical demonstration of understanding with annual maintenance modules required to maintain accreditation,” he said.
“It’s not going to take 2 hours. It’s most likely going to take something like 4 hours a week over 6 or 8 months to complete,” MTA’s CEO said, adding that “it’s not an open-book, tick the box exercise”.
Beattie highlighted that MTA has many highly experienced travel experts, saying the program is “not about starting from scratch, this is building on the expertise that we already have, because where is the next development lifecycle for those travel experts?”
Tasked with developing Professional Plus was MTA in-house Training Manager, Kirsty Tate, who also created MTA’s four-day induction program.
Tate said the “Product and Luxury” pathway includes modules provided by suppliers on how to sell high-end goods, tapping into a number of modules already accessible through the Virtuoso Academy. The pathway itself would take around 6-8 weeks to complete, based on a member committing 2-3 hours per week on the program.
Members are unable to move onto the next level within a pathway until they’ve completed all the modules within each level. Using the “Air” pathway as an example, Tate told LATTE that Level 1 covered basic airfare structure and rules and has around 30 modules, Level 2 progressed to round-the-world airfares and Level 3 was repricing and more complex structures. “From a complexity point of view it gets more and more difficult as you progress,” she added.
Tate joined MTA in a training capacity four years ago after being a retail consultant with Flight Centre Limited Group. She said Luxury is a “big part” of business at Mobile Travel Agents.
“Interestingly, Luxury is challenging for a lot of people and that’s what we are trying to break down with this new pathway. A lot of people still think it’s ‘pie in the sky’ stuff. If you don’t have luxury clients, it’s a market for a lot of them they think it’s quite overwhelming. They all want to be in that space, but it’s a scary, daunting place to be.”
Tate said for Luxury, it’s “all about knowing your client and building relationships. It’s just not understanding just product. It’s understanding what makes your client tick and really designing an experience around that, rather than providing a product. So the pathway is really helping them with that shift.”
“Being such an intensive program, members who earn accreditation will be recognised within the industry for their dedication and commitment to learning and increasing their knowledge,” she said. “It has a reputation that they’ve had to jump through some serious hoops.”
And the take-up? By early afternoon on its launch day, 15 MTA members had already completed the first module.