Travel training nonprofit Tourism Academy takes TEA with its courses

The Tourism Academy, a nonprofit focused on training for travel professionals, requires all of its courses to meet the “TEA criteria”: Courses have to be transformational, engaging and accessible.

“The Tourism Academy serves a purpose of providing a place where education can be shared within the tour and travel industry, between agencies, tour operators, even laymen who want to get involved in the industry or people who want to travel better,” said Stephen Ekstrom, the academy’s chief strategist.

The academy also works with city and state governments to help drive tourism and improve their tourism product.

Here’s how Ekstrom explains the TEA criteria:

Transformative: “You can do something when you’re done with a course that you couldn’t do before. So, we’re not going to lecture at you. We’re not going to allow any of our instructors to lecture at you. We’re not going to assert expertise. We’re going to teach you a skill.”

Engaging: “One of the main problems that we saw, particularly in training for the tourism industry, is that it is a lot of people asserting their expertise, and not many of them know how to actually teach and how to engage an audience, especially when delivered online.”

Accessible: “Two points. No. 1 is that there are seven different learning styles. You have to teach people in a way that they learn. It’s education with empathy. The second is that it has to be accessible to the user when they need it, where they are.”

The academy targets both travel advisors and tour operators with its course offerings. All are available online and focus on a variety of topics, including business management, communication, sales and marketing, finance, personal development, products and destinations. It also shares learning products from a wide variety of other sources, Ekstrom said, so they are easier for agents to find.

For instance, there is a course on planning a destination wedding and another on chat-based customer service for agents. The Tourism Academy is also home to the Student and Youth Travel Association’s Certified Student Travel Professional course. This year, the academy is focused on a new partnership with the Rwenzori Tourism Academy to generate economic growth around Uganda’s Rwenzori Mountains National Park, a Unesco World Heritage Site.

There are more than 200 courses available on demand, ranging in cost from $11.99 to upwards of several hundred dollars (instructors set prices, which are based on the amount of content and interaction).

Interest from the agent community has been strong since the academy’s 2018 founding, Ekstrom said.

Before the academy, for the past 20 years, Ekstrom worked with various attractions, destinations and governments to develop tourism as an economic driver.

Today, he’s become something of a professional tourist himself. After realizing the value of his home in Fort Lauderdale, he sold it and bought an 84-square-foot recreational vehicle. He has been touring the country with his dog, Rudy, visiting friends and industry contacts around the U.S. Next year, he plans to travel internationally. 

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