Collaboration, cruise-inspiration & clarity: CATO’s MD spills on its new Touring Academy

Collaboration, cruise-inspiration & clarity: CATO’s MD spills on its new Touring Academy

The Council of Australian Tour Operators (CATO) today announced the CATO Touring Academy to better train agents and industry newcomers on the touring sector and CATO-affiliated businesses.

With industry-wide skills shortages, the constantly evolving nature of tours and agents’ growing need for easily accessible sector-specific training all constants of the travel industry, CATO has taken a step forward in catering towards agents’ needs.

This move will ensure “sector-specific training complemented by brand-specific training,” according to CATO’s managing director Brett Jardine. 

“We need the industry to really understand the breadth and depth of product that’s available in the land supply sector,” he said.

Jardine, who previously spent a decade working at the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), said the CATO Touring Academy was inspired by CLIA’s own industry sector-specific training.

“We’ve modelled this online platform on what’s worked really well for CLIA,” he said.

By taking inspiration from CATO’s high seas roaming counterparts, the council can specifically address the industry wide skills shortage that continues to linger over two years after the Australian international border reopened.

“Post-COVID, we’ve lost a lot of people, both in the retail space and in our spaces – tour operators and wholesalers – so [we’re] addressing the skills shortage and giving business owners that are looking to employ new staff something that they can lean on to help them teach newcomers to the industry as well as elevate the level of expertise with their existing staff,” Jardine told Travel Weekly.

Jardine (right) with industry stalwart Wendy Wu (left)

This new educational program strives to better educate agents on not just the offerings of CATO’s partners, but educate on how the touring sector has evolved over the past decade.

“If you said to someone, ‘What’s a tour?’ five years ago, there’d probably be an immediate picture in their head of an older person getting on a coach with 40 or 50 other people,” Jardine said, adding that this is not exclusively what a tour is today, with tours ranging from large groups on buses down to a couple or a solo travellers of a wide age range being escorted by a tour guide.

This is what the program aims to not only explore but also better communicate to agents unfamiliar with the evolving nature of tours and tourism.

But it wasn’t just Jardine and the team at CATO that conjured up the new touring academy. The council’s many partners were essential to the formation of the touring academy, with one player taking a leading role.

“The largest privately owned brand in the travel industry world – The Travel Corporation – have played an absolutely [huge] role in supporting what CATO’s doing here and we’re very appreciative of that,” Jardine said.

While the CATO MD acknowledged TTC’s enormous contribution to the touring academy, he commended the way that all of CATO’s major partners collaborated, once again complimenting the cruise industry for its inspiration to the new program.

“The cruise industry have done it very well for many years and recognition of that approach from within our space was needed to be able to ensure everybody goes to the next level,” Jardine said. “The best analogy is ‘rising tide lifts all boats’ – it is a fact in this space as well.

“We need the larger brands – The Travel Corporation, Globus, APT, Scenic, Intrepid, G Adventures – we need those guys working together to help lift all the other specialist operators that sit beneath… Because one day, one of those smaller niche brands is going to be the next Intrepid or G Adventures.”

This accreditation program, which Jardine anticipates will go live in April, will encourage agents to look at the benefit of booking with Australian tour operators and wholesalers. On average, 20 per cent of the money spent with CATO-partnered businesses stays in the Australia and agents and their customers that book with these businesses are covered by Australian consumer law.

This, alongside the array of up-to-date touring information and product offerings, will be gradually rolled out starting in the second quarter of 2024.

“The whole Academy will continue to evolve as we add more and more material in the future, and that means a wide range of elective modules to help agents understand the different types of touring that are available – all the different niche sectors – as we gradually add member brand training and destination training from our tourist board members as well,” Jardine said.

“What we see when we first launch in Q2 versus what it’s going to look like in 12 months time will be chalk and cheese.”

Read up on the initial Touring Academy announcement here.

Featured Image: Brett Jardine – CATO

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