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Are Travel Agent Specialist Programs Worth The Hassle?

You’re brainstorming content, churning out modules and then struggling with designers and developers to ensure its all done just right. Ever think to yourself, is all this investment of time and energy really worth it? Are my efforts even helping travel advisors (nee agents) close more sales?

In 2019, Development Counsellors International (DCI), in partnership with Travel Relations LLC, conducted a study among 1,705 travel advisors across the U.S. and Canada to better understand if travel advisor specialist training programs work. And if they do, which were best in class.

Here’s what we discovered.

Finding #1 – Knowledge is Power…

While the potential for increasing sales is ultimately the end goal, travel advisors are most concerned with building a foundational knowledge of destinations and will take advantage of a variety of information in order to acquire this knowledge. Whether it comes through a travel advisors specialist program, a well-designed webinar or a FAM trip, destination knowledge to build the advisor’s “brand” as a destination expert is a primary motivator. Being able to respond to questions on a variety of destinations builds credibility and helps develop an advisor’s competitive advantage over other advisors.

80% of travel advisors participate in at least one specialist program



There are several ways for travel advisors to grow their knowledge of various destinations. For instance, despite the fact there is no guarantee that specialist programs will help increase sales, 80 percent of surveyed advisors report that they participate in at least one destination’s travel advisors specialist program and, of those, 76 percent report that enhancing their destination knowledge is the primary motivation.

Percentage of Travel Advisors Who Participate In A Travel Advisors Specialist Program



Primary Reason for Participation in A Travel Advisors Specialist Program



Only 30 percent of those who participate in specialist programs believe there is a direct link to increased sales. However, 63 percent of respondents plan on joining a specialist program this year.

Percentage of Travel Advisors Who Plan To Join A Specialist Program This Year


An opportunity exists for destinations to convert the one-third of respondents who are unsure if they will participate in a specialist program in the upcoming year. Promoting that a program is highly educational, in addition to being free and easy to enroll in, will go a long way toward positively influencing participation in a program.

According to travel advisors, the top specialist programs that have built a positive reputation for destinations – and from which best practices can be gleaned – include:

  1. Hawaii
  2. Jamaica
  3. Disney
  4. Australia
  5. Mexico


If unable or unwilling to commit to a specialist program, advisors often turn to a less time-intensive form of destination training such as webinars, but the end goal is the same: to enhance destination knowledge. Respondents report that, on average, they participate in three webinars monthly to enhance their destination knowledge.

When asked to rank the factors most likely to influence participation in a webinar, “learning about a destination” was the top reason an advisor will participate.

While webinars are viewed as an effective training and educational tool among travel advisors, attention spans are admittedly short, and destinations have a limited window of opportunity to share information. Nearly half of respondents (49%) believe the ideal length of a webinar is between 30 and 45 minutes. U.S. travel advisors had a clear preference for a 30-45 minute webinar while a higher percentage of Canadian travel advisors preferred a webinar under 30 minutes. DMOs need to keep presentations clear, concise and focus on the topics that will be of most interest in expanding the knowledge advisors have of the destination and which in turn, they will share with their clients.

What is the ideal length of a webinar (in minutes)?


To download the complete findings of the study for free, visit DCI’s Best Practices in Travel Trade Marketing to download the report.

About This Study

In the 2019 study (a replication of our 2014 study), DCI surveyed 1705 U.S. and Canadian travel advisors (also known as travel agents) to determine how destination organizations and tourism boards can best work with them to enhance destination sales. Of the respondents, 81 percent identified as U.S. travel advisors and 19 percent as Canadian travel advisors.

Interested in learning more about how DCI’s travel trade team can help you increase sales of your destination among the travel trade? We’d love to explore how we might assist your destination marketing organization or convention bureau.

Written By

Karyl Leigh Barnes

Karyl Leigh Barnes is President of DCI’s Tourism Practice. Since joining the firm in 1998, Karyl Leigh has led destination strategy and created marketing communication programs for destinations on every continent except Antarctica.

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