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Learning in Lockdown

Jim Eastwood, Global Sales Director, Travel Counsellors

Growing up I would candidly class myself as a ‘reluctant academic’. Back in the 80’s, you were much more likely to find me outdoors glued to my bike or a football rather than buried in a book. However, ‘with age comes wisdom’ they say, and I soon realised that education was going to be my passport to developing both myself, my love for sport and my ambition to have a successful career. During this period of lockdown we’ve had time to look back, reminisce and refocus, but we’ve also been given the chance to look forward – to take a look at ourselves, both as individuals and as business communities, and identify ways that we can be better, leaner, faster, stronger. This moment of reflection, albeit in the context of surviving the mental strain and real threat to physical life caused by a global pandemic, has also opened a window of opportunity to focus on something incredibly positive – to learn, develop, expand our knowledge and broaden our horizons.
Taking time to learn and develop is a strategy also supported by mental health charity Mind, which as I write this during Mental Health Awareness Week, is a timely reminder that learning new skills can help boost confidence and a sense of achievement. Feedback from Travel Counsellor business owners has also backed this theme, with many declaring they want to use this time as wisely and productively as possible, notwithstanding the duty of care they have to their families and customers right now.

Sharpening skills now to win later

The situation has forced many businesses to think outside the box to deliver training to people working remotely across the globe. We’re fortunate at Travel Counsellors to already have the technology, tools and learning pathways in place to facilitate distance learning given the nature of our business model, and we’ve taken the opportunity to boost these digital platforms during lockdown, culminating in a dedicated, virtual TC Training Festival throughout the month of May. This situation has also allowed us to enhance the distance learning tools we provide to engage, motivate and upskill an already remote-working community of talented, professional people. And whilst there’s nothing better than getting together, face-to-face interactions have been replaced globally by FaceTime’s, virtual classrooms and interactive group sessions on Zoom, and in this way at least, the all-important human connection required to deliver world-class training has not been lost.
With over 1,000 Travel Counsellor business owners worldwide participating in multiple webinars in the last 14 days, tackling topics including sales and marketing, product and destinations, plus business planning for the future, it’s clear that our thirst for knowledge, and desire to better ourselves in order to better our customers’ experiences has only be enhanced by lockdown – if anything, it’s allowed us as individuals to carve-out more time for personal and professional development.

Learning together and learning from each other

Group learning in Lockdown Far from virtual learning being a lonely experience, we’ve found that dedicating time for learning and development has brought us closer together in the most enriching way. People who are participating in virtual training are forming groups and ‘getting together’ online to discuss what they’ve learnt and share tips for best practice, with dedicated threads on internal message boards, Yammer groups or WhatsApp keeping the conversation flowing, highlighting that being interactive and accessible in any training provision is vital. But it doesn’t have to be all work and no play. We’ve launched a dedicated book club in lockdown which sees business owners take some down time to read and relax, and Travel Counsellor-led virtual pub quizzes are taking place on a weekly basis across our global community, providing a welcome distraction from the intensity of these times.

Turning passion into a profession

Many of us who work in travel will say we’re here because we love to travel, and we love to share that enthusiasm with others. I am not travel ‘man-and-boy’ admittedly, but I’ve turned a passion into a profession, and whilst I may not have experienced every product and destination we sell, the tools and training available at our fingertips, and the sheer breadth of knowledge housed within our global Travel Counsellor community and by our industry peers can be harnessed to provide the most important thing of all – outstanding travel experiences for our customers. And as many of us are learning in lockdown, there will be just as many lessons learnt from lockdown. In months to come we’ll look back on a time when we supported each other to be they very best we can be in a difficult period, and strengthened our position as individuals and as business communities for a brighter future. I often say ‘you have to keep learning to keep earning’ but above all, the sense of achievement and confidence boost that can be gained from upskilling even in times of adversity is almost immeasurable. Ultimately, the personal and professional investments we make now will make a big impact later. Customers will crave, even more so, trusted travel advice that is caring, personal, flexible and complemented by digitally enabled experiences, but always delivered with the human touch. As the proud son of parents who were life-long learners (my mum was a teacher and my dad a serial entrepreneur), they taught me that whether its learning something new, or closing a deal, every day really is a school day.

TC Training Festival

Travel Counsellors ‘TC Training Festival’ is running throughout the month of May, accessible to all of the company’s 1,900 business owners across seven countries, with live webinars produced and available on-demand to suit all time zones.

The company has also continued its established training initiatives virtually, including induction courses for new Travel Counsellors, and a dedicated ‘Leisure to Corporate’ training course that delivers the knowledge and skills required for leisure business owners to grow their business through winning and managing corporate travel accounts.

Manchester based Travel Counsellor Karen Moore, who launched her new business in March, says, “My aim has been to hit the ground running and take advantage of the training support available to me during this time. I’ve been working my way through all the online course content – from cruise product modules to spotlights on DMC partners and destination guides, plus advice on how to market myself as an independent business owner in the current climate. My mantra is that the more knowledge I have, the better my business will be, and more importantly the better the booking and travel experiences I can provide for my customers.”

The TC Training Festival is the latest addition to the company’s continuous learning and development initiatives centred around an in-house training platform, COACH. The digital training hub includes dedicated courses on sustainable travel in collaboration with the Travel Foundation, and cyber security modules following a £50,000 investment in bespoke training on the topic, which was written and created by Hollywood producers last year.

The COACH digital platform won the 2018 and 2019 ‘Lenny Award’ for Best Sales Training Programme, and is facilitated by the company’s ILM Coaching & Mentoring-qualified training and business development team.

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