Challenges of training travel agents on the digital marketing platform

UNLIKE employees in the hospitality sector who tend to receive regular training (notably those in the accommodation as well as food and beverage segments), very few people in the travel industry such as travel agents, tour operators and tourism transporters get the same opportunity.

Although the National Occupational Skills Standards (NOSS) have been developed for almost all jobs in the travel trade, there are hardly any NOSS-based training programme offered in the market except for tourist guide training courses that have been conducted since 1964.

Interestingly, the National Training and Certification Craft Board (LLPPKK) was established only in 1971 and the National Vocational Training Council (MLVK) in 1989 which was later renamed as Department of Skills Development (JPK) in 2006. They are the custodian agencies of all NOSS in Malaysia.

NOSS-based training programmes are great for blue-collar jobs as apprentices get to acquire skills in training centres that are not much different from real workplaces but the situation is not so similar in the travel business as many jobs in the travel industry require much interaction between colleagues, customers and suppliers.

Sadly, there is a dearth of NOSS-based training courses for other travel industry jobs offered by JPK accredited centres as demand had been poor since the mid-1990s. Over the years, even the responses for one-day training seminars organised by travel associations had been lukewarm.

Mixed bag

In recent years, the only courses that travel industry personnel have been attending were the compulsory Travel and Tours Management Course (TTMC) for successful applicants of new business licences, and the Travel and Tours Enhancement Course (TTEC) for renewal.

As there are several modules in each course, the unit on marketing is limited to only 90 minutes. It would be difficult to learn something well within such a short time. As such, the time spent would be limited to raising awareness and realising the importance of several areas.

It should also be noted that are a mixed bag. Some are so successful that even tourism professors would not be able to hold a candle to them, while many could be outright ignorant or totally indifferent.

No one will be satisfied if all were to be trained together. Also, each have their own products and niche markets. Those running travel agencies sell only products for their principals such as airline seats, hotel rooms, theme park rides and so on. On the other hand, tour operators must create their own tour packages and market their services.

Then there are companies offering tourism vehicles that come with drivers and others that are driven by customers. Operating tour buses and vans and offering rent-a-car service are different kettles of fish altogether and are usually handled by different departments or companies.

While Tourism Malaysia (TM) promotes the whole country using various themes, destinations, attractions, cultures, food and shopping to the mass audience, tour operators could only target customers in niche market segments given their limited resources and the need to focus.

While only a few initiatives by TM are suitable for individual tour operators, inbound and domestic tour companies should piggy ride and take advantage of TM’s efforts. They ought to be aware and make full use of such opportunities, but many appear to be operating in silos.

Digital marketing

However, when it comes to digital marketing, success is not guaranteed as there are thousands – if not millions – of competitors online. But failure is certain for those that do not make full use of the internet. Those not using e-mails and social media to communicate are relics of the past.

To learn the basics of digital marketing well will take at least two full days. Hence, within one-and-a-half hours only, participants could be briefed on the role and activities of TM. But on digital marketing, there is time to scratch the surface only for those who are totally new.

However, those serious on digital marketing have already taken the initiatives to learn on their own, either by attending physical or online courses, or self-taught through trial and error. As such, they could find briefings given within 90 minutes to be of little use and even boring.

Likewise, those who are not using social media such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or TikTok to promote their business are not going to change much after a short briefing. In fact, most of their websites are so weak that visitors would leave within seconds.

Yet it is no rocket science to improve their websites by leaps and bounds as they could easily learn and copy from existing websites of leading competitors. It is best described in a proverb: β€˜You can lead a horse to the water, but you can’t make him drink’.

As in all training programmes, while it can be futile to brief some on digital marketing for some, it can however also be beneficial for others.

While the contents of a module are important, effective learning could only take place when there is a good trainer and trainees are eager to share and learn. – Oct 13, 2021


YS Chan is a master trainer for Mesra Malaysia and an Asean Tourism Master Trainer. He is also a tourism and transport business consultant and writer, and researcher for the Travel Industry Occupational Framework published by the Department of Skills Development.

The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.

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