Tour Packaging is a Special Topics course in the MS in Tourism Management program. Professor Sally Black, the instructor, tells us more about her background and the course in this post.
What is your background?
I trained as a Registered Nurse at Holy Name Hospital in Teaneck, N.J. specializing in Maternal-Child health, mainly pediatrics and Labor & Delivery for 10 years. During a tumultuous divorce my nursing license had lapsed. I had to support my three young children and didn't have the time or funds to take a refresher course and renew my nursing license. During this same time, I became fascinated with this new technology known as the world wide web. In 1994 I landed a marketing director working for an internet start-up. Believe it or not, my job qualifications at that time were a home internet connection, I knew how to use Yahoo and send an email! This start-up created one of the very first online booking engines so I found myself at the intersection of e-commerce and the evolution of the travel industry. It was a very exciting time full of innovation and discovery. Some of the highlights were speaking at events for IATA and Phocuswright, creating promotional events with partners like Disney, Miramax, Barnes & Noble and creating a travel TV series. Six years later our start-up was sold and once again I found myself unemployed.
I decided to take my experience, knowledge and network to become an entrepreneur. In 2001 and launched Vacationkids, an online travel agency. My niche of family travel was a natural blend of my past professional experiences. Vacationkids was one of the very first home-based travel agencies. It has grown into a multi-million dollar business that employs 12 moms. We have been taking the forced leisure time of the Covid pandemic to be ahead of the curve when families begin traveling once again.
At the Tisch Center, you teach the special topics 'Tour Packaging' course. What are the objectives of the course?
This course takes a deep dive into the topic of travel intermediary companies - travel agencies, tour operators, travel wholesalers, OTA's and Destination Management Companies. We'll be exploring travel supply chains and how consumers connect with travel suppliers. It is an interesting overview of how travel products come together like puzzle pieces to create memorable leisure experiences for travelers. Emphasis will be placed on how travel suppliers market and message their product offerings as well as how sales are made to consumers.
Why is this an important and interesting subject area in our fields?
Vacation packages are usually the result of products from several different intermediaries blended into one itinerary. It's a complicated and confusing dance but understanding the steps brings clarity. Sadly, I've met many working professionals, some with years of experience, who do not fully understand the different roles travel intermediaries play when it comes to sales, marketing and distribution. This leads to frustration as well as many missed business opportunities and partnerships. Future leaders will need a clear understanding of operations and customer connections if they are to discover new solutions to help with the recovery of the travel industry.
What impact do you hope to have on your students through this course?
The purpose of our class is to understand how vacation packages are created. That said, if there is a lesson to be learned from either Covid and my own personal experience, it's that life will often throw a curveball at you and it's usually at the worst possible moment. My hope is that my students will remember me for giving them some very practical survival life skills that will help carry them through any hard times in their future careers. Many people can't understand my career shift from nurse to travel agent. I will often joke and say "If you can convince a toddler to get an immunization, you can sell anything" or "If you can triage an ER patient you can easily qualify a travel client. If you're wrong in the ER, people can die. If you're wrong as a travel agent, you just lose a customer - far less pressure!"
While we learn about travel intermediaries, my hope is to help my students recognize, appreciate and master the important practical life skills. For a successful tourism or hospitality career they will need empathy, great communication skills, problem solving capabilities, fearlessness and leadership. If they leave my class looking to perfect these skills, then I have served them well.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Doing new things that take you out of your comfort zone or frighten you is how we all grow. Admittedly, not coming from the academic world, I was terrified when I was asked to teach this class last year. After a moment of hesitation, I welcomed this experience with open arms and I will be eternally grateful to Dr. Lynn Minnaert, the family at NYU and especially to my students. This pandemic has been a very difficult time. My Vacationkids team and I have spent long months dealing with angry, disappointed, frustrated and frightened people. We cannot work at the job we love. NYU, The Jonathan M. Tisch Center of Hospitality and especially my wonderful students have been a beacon of hope. The NYU family were so graceful and caring while adjusting in my case to virtual learning. My amazing students are a shining example of all that is right about being a member of the world travel community. Their eagerness and desire for excellences restores my faith in the strong future of our travel industry!