CATO addresses agent skills gap via new Academy

Travel agents are not currently aware of the full suite of evolving land-based tours available in the market. This is the claim of the Council of Australian Tour Operators (CATO), which has this week unveiled its brand-new Touring Academy to address the perceived knowledge gap. Adam Bishop reports.

On 01 April, CATO will launch its new Touring Academy to improve the knowledge travel agents have of land-based touring products.

Modelled on the successful CLIA Academy, the new education program will offer advisors the ability to attain CATO certification once participants accrue 200 points through module completion.

Points will be amassed through a combination of mandatory classes (20 points), elective content (15 points), CATO member training (10 points) and participation in famils of five days or longer.

Another key feature of the new Academy will be the ability for members to create bespoke white label training content, with CATO believing this element will empower members to tailor learning material more closely with brands’ unique selling points and better communicate the depth and variety of land-based holiday options available.

Speaking to travelBulletin about the launch, CATO MD, Brett Jardine, said the Academy has been in the works for quite some time.

“I’ve been running CATO now for six years and [this Academy] is something that Chairman Dennis Bunnik and I have been talking about from day one,” Jardine said.

“Now that a lot of people have left the industry since COVID, a lot of the talk has been about addressing a critical skills shortage in the industry and this Academy will play a key role in filling that void.

“It’s also going to play a part in supporting business owners that are potentially being forced to bring newcomers to the industry,” he added.

Jardine is also keen to stress that CATO’s Touring Academy is not in any way intended to compete with CLIA’s Academy, but rather serve as a complimentary educational avenue for agents to brush up their land-based touring skills.

“Around 99% of our members are selling international outbound leisure products, so ultimately I see what we’re doing here as a complimentary education opportunity for agents with what the cruise industry has done so well for many years.

“We’re definitely not doing this to compete, we’re doing this to complement and help grow that skills shortage across the industry.”

Jardine was able to confirm that demand for such a training platform was driven by both retailers, who feel they need more tuition about land-based touring and wholesale product, as well as its members, who have been campaigning for greater engagement with travel sellers – especially in the post-pandemic environment.

“The key thing from our members’ side is engagement with the retailers because post COVID we’ve seen this massive trend of retail shop fronts moving into a home-based environment, so the accessibility of retailers has declined significantly,” Jardine explained.

“The ability for smaller operators to employ BDMs to be on the road and to get to those retailers is now a massive challenge and so this Academy effectively complements the sales capacity of the tour operators and wholesalers as part of their engagement,” he added.

Reflecting on the white label brand training opportunities the new platform will offer, the CATO chief believes the tailored element will go a long way to showing agents the wide breadth of touring product available in the market.

“We could have anywhere between 50 and 100 tour operators participating with their own brand training which will make this a pretty significant sized Academy,” he said.

“In time, that will allow agents to see the product they are able to book right here under their noses in Australia, and ultimately, when retail agents are booking with Australian-based tour operators and wholesalers it comes with peace-of-mind because they participate in the CATO Accreditation program and are all operating under Australian Consumer Law.”

While agents who are new to the sector to replace the exodus experienced during COVID is clearly one motivator, Jardine is also keen to “dispel myths” about tour operators more broadly, even with advisors who have been in the sector for some time.

“Even for many people who have been in the industry for a long time, the first feature that comes into their minds are often people sitting on a coach with 40 or 50 other people, but the reality is today a tour can also include a couple in a private car with a driver-guide exploring destinations privately,” he said.

“We’ve seen over recent years the evolution of specialists and niche operators in a particular style or destination and if we look through our list of CATO members, it’s quite incredible how much niche product exists within our membership group,” he added.

The CATO Touring Academy is the result of a partnership with learning management software provider ABSORB.

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