Trading places with interfaces: an investigation into online training for the travel agency sector within the United Kingdom
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Technology and the use of the internet are having a profound influence on our lives, with advancements in information communication technology empowering society on both a personal and corporate level. Changing the attitudes, beliefs and behaviours of consumers, subsequently, altering the focus of retail travel agents. Extensive studies have been undertaken on the use of the internet; however, limited research exists on the use of the internet as a training tool for the travel agency sector. This study investigates online training and evaluates its effectiveness from a user’s perspective within the United Kingdom’s travel agency sector. The research adopted a mixed method approach and was based on online questionnaires used for the exploration of specific subject areas and interviews were conducted to provide more in depth personal views and perceptions of the online training programme. The research revealed that the travel agency sector is constantly evolving, due to changing technological conditions and consumer demand. In order to remain competitive, many travel organisations have implemented survival strategies with greater emphasis being placed on customer service management, and travel personnel with the correct skills set have become valuable company assets. Consequently, travel consultants are continually looking for new ways to improve their own personal skills. The research highlighted the importance of lifelong learning and found customer service skills, selling skills, appropriate IT skills and occupational knowledge all to be essential skills for travel professionals to meet the demands of the consumers. This study illustrated the positive benefits of e-learning from both a provider’s and user’s perspective, focusing on the support it offered the travel and tourism sector, convenience, greater access to resources, individualised learning and relevance of materials to support and enhance job performance. The study demonstrated that the online training provided by Tourism New Zealand was effective in its provision, combining theoretical pedagogical concepts with web design techniques and operational system support to facilitate the learning process. As a result, retention and achievement rates within this study were high. While no major gaps in the provision of the training were identified, it is suggested that Tourism New Zealand continually look for new and innovate ways to enhance the learning experience through the use of online collaboration and advanced multimedia techniques if the training is to remain effective.