Metropolitan State University of Denver next year will offer corporate travel management education, a scarcity at the collegiate level.
By comparison, those interested in becoming a travel agent can find training in several places. Plenty of tourism and hospitality schools offer other kinds of travel-related degrees. Efforts to educate the next generation of travel managers, though, have been mixed.
A career in corporate travel management doesn’t come to mind for too many collegians. People usually land there later. Maybe they worked for a travel agency or other travel supplier and jumped to the buyer side. Or maybe they had a procurement role and picked up the travel category. Some started as administrative assistants and built on their responsibilities for travel planning.
There’s nothing wrong with any of that. But like any discipline, travel management only can benefit by bringing in new talent and fresh perspectives.
“The academic world has been slow to pick up on the fact that travel management is a profession in its own right,” said Sandy Moring, director of education for the Institute of Travel Management of the U.K. and Ireland. “There is still too much of an umbrella approach where it is put under tourism and maybe a few hours are allocated to cover the subject.”
Metropolitan State University of Denver is transitioning its Hospitality, Tourism and Events Department into what is to become the School of Hospitality, Tourism and Events. The first step is separating the Hospitality, Tourism and Events Bachelor of Arts degree into four separate majors: meeting and event management, hotel management, restaurant management and travel and tourism management. The school will offer all four starting in the fall 2017 semester. The corporate travel curriculum will fall under travel and tourism management.
“Previously we had focused pretty much on the leisure side,” said department chair Carol Krugman. “We have added corporate travel not only as a course, but our plans are, as the major grows, to have an entire corporate travel track. It is different. It’s a huge economic driver. It goes hand in hand with those other areas: business tourism, meetings and conventions. It was just a huge hole.”
Krugman discussed the “critical” need to train newbies as veteran travel management pros age out. She said today’s environment demands a very different skill set than when those seasoned vets began their careers. “We teach our students that it’s not just doing stuff, it’s connecting the dots and understanding that this is a business,” Krugman said. “We want our students to walk into a corporate travel department and hit the ground running.”
Krugman praised the Rocky Mountain Business Travel Association for supporting MSU Denver’s programs.
Last year, the Silicon Valley Business Travel Association worked with San Jose State University’s College of International and Extended Studies to develop a corporate travel program. Before it began, SVBTA invited students from SJSU’s hospitality program to attend meetings.
“It was eye-opening,” said Makiko Barrett, SVBTA’s education and professional development director. “College students only want to be event planners. They had no idea what a corporate travel manager was. It is not a career path that anybody dreams about. Many of us just happen to become one.
“We want to bring in new blood and get some new ideas,” added Barrett, who also is Yahoo’s senior manager of global travel. “We can’t be stuck in our old ways.”
SVBTA Academy chair Janet Wyer said it took a bit of explaining for university leaders, too. “There was just a lack of understanding” about the profession, said Wyer, who also is travel relationship manager at Stanford University. “And where do you put it? They kept wanting it to be a travel agent-type position.”
Ultimately, SJSU’s College of International and Extended Studies formed a class on travel administration during fall 2015. It was a six-week course conducted on Saturdays, about six hours per class. About a dozen enrollees included existing SJSU students and some who had been working for travel suppliers and wanted a change. A few of the students found at least temporary placement in a travel management position following the course. Barrett is bringing one onto her team at Yahoo.
A second part planned for spring 2016 and focused on travel agent education didn’t pan out. Enrollment fell short.
Now the college has no immediate plans to continue either component. “Had it been more affordable, we probably could have continued to offer it, but we couldn’t bring the cost down,” said Christine Stradford, an SJSU extended studies program coordinator. “It’s on the back-burner. We haven’t written it off.”
Barrett described the program as “a great start.” It taught SVBTA lessons on how to better attract students for future initiatives. “If we are to do the next course, it could be with another community college or we might do our own,” she said.
Across the Atlantic, ITM had a program with the University of Brighton, but that’s winding down.
“Working with University of Brighton as part of their program has been successful,” Moring said. “ITM is now researching other suitable university partners as part of a larger effort on career development.”
Sara Rooney is one of the last going through the University of Brighton-ITM “route way.” After completing undergraduate studies, she enrolled at Brighton to study travel management. It was the only such degree program she could find. The profession appealed to her because of her interests in business management, multiple languages and global travel.
“When I told people what I would be studying, there were a lot of misconceptions,” Rooney explained. “People would say, ‘Oh, you are going to be a travel agent?’ ”
As part of the program, Rooney interned with HRG, working on the PwC account. She was surprised that it was one of only two placement opportunities available. That compared with 20 or so for classmates focused on the leisure side.
SVBTA’s Barrett has observed the same. Because colleges want to place as many graduates as possible, and because corporate travel is such a “niche field,” she said, “they lean more towards hospitality. Hotels hire lots of new graduates.”
Now in the final year of the Brighton program, Rooney landed her current job as an associate with consultancy Festive Road.
It’s easier to find professional development for those already in travel and related fields. Associations like ITM, the Association of Corporate Travel Executives, the Global Business Travel Association and others offer programs. Some result in certifications.
“The industry is developing at such a fast pace,” Moring said, “which means that qualifications can only remain current through continued learning and development.”
Disclosure: The Company Dime and Festive Road have a non-monetary partnership on our Teleconference series.