Transcript 183: Training the Travel Trade for Recovery, with Julia Feuell
Nicole Mahoney: 00:24 Hello listeners, this is Nicole Mahoney, host of destination on the left. Welcome to this week’s episode with another great guests, Julia UL, founder and CEO of online travel training. I was so happy when Julia agreed to come on the show and share her perspective with us. Just such a great point of view, having evolved her company from a travel industry, staff recruitment company to an online travel training organization and this conversation, we talk about how to effectively train the travel trade, the content that is most important to the trade across the world and how destinations and travel professionals can come together to help the industry recover. Post pandemic a little more about Julia. She grew up in Oakland and settled in the UK in the 1980s in 1993 she set up her business, new frontiers, recruiting staff all over the travel industry. In 2008 she had an idea to create a training Academy for call center workers to learn about products and destinations online.
Nicole Mahoney: 01:25 This idea transformed into another business called OTT or online travel training, a global product marketing and communications business accessed by more than 190,000 travel professionals in 17 languages and 22 countries. Julia was a finalist for outstanding services to the travel industry by the Guild of travel and tourism and one woman entrepreneur of the year as the 2008 shine awards. She enjoys Tai Chi yoga, eating out in good company and writing on the back of fast motorbikes. Now let’s get into the interview. Julia, thank you so much for joining us and I’m so excited for this conversation today and to learn from you. Uh, but before we get started, can you share a little bit more about your story in your own words? I find it gives us so much more context to the conversation.
Julia Feuell: 02:22 Yeah, sure. So, um, I grew up in New Zealand, but I’m not going all the way back into my childhood, so don’t worry. Um, the vast amount of my career really has been here in the UK. Um, where I, uh, originally started off in recruiting for the travel industry. Mmm. Wasn’t running my travel recruitment business. That’s my second business sort of emerged out of it, which is quite interesting. Um, and that was really because we decided to set up, uh, an Academy, uh, a training of how to make his recruitment and training sort of good neighbors. And the moment we set up and do some GDS training and destination training, we had Royal Caribbean cruisers want to put their product training on there. And I thought, well that’s interesting. And then we found that there was sort of, this isn’t 2007 around, you know, quite a few sort of bits of eLearning were just coming through.
Julia Feuell: 03:11 And what was happening is the resources on suppliers was under pressure. And so to get round to meet on the travel agents and to be able to do lunch and learn and explain about their products and services was guessing harder. So they’re creating e-learning in order to reach more people. So to begin with, we aggregated those eLearning courses, which I didn’t realize quite how expensive they will work. But, um, and then we ran out of content cause it wasn’t a great deal around. So we decided to start uploading information onto our websites. Um, and we did that for a couple of years until very, very fast because obviously it was much cheaper to be able to upload your content on our platform than it was to create your own bespoke platform. And because TT, um, as it was, uh, named online travel training was part of new frontiers of recruitment company.
Julia Feuell: 04:02 We had an instant audience of people that wanted to learn, uh, which worked really well. And then the airlines in particular wanted to have the training in different languages, so to the destinations. And then I found I had to redo the entire platform, which has kind of been cobbled together if I’m honest and do a proper build. Um, and so that global build started at about 2013 and it took four years to complete and another year to sort of tweak and finish. And it took about two fundraisers because when you have an idea, um, you know, you kind of maybe underestimate just how bold your idea being. Um, and then finally we situated 22 country sites and built the platform in 17 languages and, um, and that was in 2018 and the whole thing kind of went live from there. Um, and all the while people were buying different courses and different languages, hosting them all together in the one place, I was finally able to sort of move them into the different countries where those local audiences could easily find them and a few content comfortably in their own language and in their own way.
Julia Feuell: 05:11 So, uh, so that’s been my, my journey. And then I sold the recruitment agency back in 2017 so it’s just, um, OTT now that I focus on.
Nicole Mahoney: 05:20 Wow. Um, what an entrepreneurial journey. I love that. You know, how you start with one thing and it leads you to see a need and then you start down this path. And, and even though you said you cobbled it together at first, um, you know, I’m sure it’s a building block, right? That happens when you’re building a business.
Julia Feuell: 05:40 Hmm.
Nicole Mahoney: 05:41 Like that. And, and, and as you and I were talking before we started recording here, um, I, I love to meet female entrepreneurs and especially ones that can bring the tech, uh, in the travel and tourism. Cause I think it’s just so, so important
Julia Feuell: 05:57 as an industry that we’re leveraging that.
Julia Feuell: 06:00 Yes, yes, absolutely. Been quite a journey. Yeah, exactly. And so for our listeners sake, all right, so it’s an, it’s an online learning platform and you, and you mentioned, you know, airlines and cruise lines and destinations all have, uh, courses there. Um, who is the audience that, that goes to your website and, uh, and consumes that content? Yeah, that’s a great question. So the audience is made up of a long tail of all kinds of travel agents. Um, just as a broad brush, I should really just call them travel professionals because you’ve got the business travel agents, my agents, leisure agents. Oh, they’re now calling them agents. Yeah. And then you’ve got the various destination specialists in North Africa, no specialists, USA specialists, medical specialists, a whole long tail of all different types of the travel. What they all are is they all sell the suppliers, um, services to the consumer.
Julia Feuell: 06:57 So they need as much information about those products and services. Um, inspiring, inspiring destinations as well to put together. Mmm. The, the programs that they then offer to the travelers. Okay. And so, and they need that information in a good sort of time, new ways. It’s not tie them up too much in time, which is why we just have 20 minutes per course. So we call that micro learning. It’s the attention span. And then they get that information. And then from that, um, that reduces mistakes and improves how people also, cause of course, you know, much of the industry is, uh, really household brands. So you’ve got to make sure that they’re being sold correctly by the trade to the consumer and represented well at all times. Absolutely. And, uh, I imagine that, Mmm, that was travel professionals. Yeah. One way that they’re able to, to continue and perhaps to compete against maybe some, you know, self booking sites or other ways that people might find that information is really through this education and through this resource.
Julia Feuell: 08:02 Right? Yeah, that’s right. And then of course, as we’ve moved into the more difficult times, um, we’re also very much a messaging platform so that, um, the travel professionals were coming onto OTT and we created a top, we have like top tabs on the courses, which is usually where you brochure certain your contact information and static information. So we created a covert top tabs, sadly, which has all of what, what status that particular airline was act, which kept changing. So they kept changing their code, um, tab so that the agents could easily find all they needed to in one place. Um, because otherwise they were having to go onto the different trade websites. Can you just imagine to find the kind of information that they needed to be able to pass on to the consumers who were hungry for information as you can imagine. And then we were sending out daily newsletters of what the latest status was.
Julia Feuell: 08:53 But I’m pleased to say that now those daily newsletters are sort of starting, um, to sort of get it just a little bit more, um, different messaging and you know, the States stay cool and you know, we’re coming back kind of thing rather than all about airlines landing and not taken off again. Yeah. So it’s very much a messaging, communication, education and pretty much a marketing platform as well. Cause you’re trying to say, right, come to our attractional, come to our hotel and we’ve got this going on or this festivals happening. Mmm. So it was quite a busy website from that point of view. Absolutely. Well, I think we’ve already started talking about creativity because what a creative solution to a need in the industry. Um, but I, I’m curious, uh, you know, how competitive the tourism and hospitality industry is and I’m, I’m wondering what you have done with your platform and how that really helps.
Julia Feuell: 09:52 Mmm. You know, those destinations or are those places really stand out from the crowd? Yeah, so I suppose, um, where I mentioned you’ve got tech companies that create these sort of very lovely e-learning websites and some destinations have paid to create that as well. Um, we all still the only platform that you could, you can go to where you can put your content in one place and serve it up into the 22 different countries and be able to update yeah. The content from one place and look at all your reporting and see who’s engaging with you and communicate with the different markets. Um, otherwise you’d have to talk to a company that’s created some new learning, say in Germany, then talk to the one that’s in Netherlands, then come over to the States and try and talk to that one. And now you’ve got e-learning in all different places, different logins, different content and so on.
Julia Feuell: 10:43 So, but what we do do is we have actually collaborated with, um, one of the learning providers in the Netherlands. So the nest content goes live on our platform. Um, they’re also a media company and then they promote that particular, um, company, well destination to the Dutch market and promote them if it’s running a prize or a got, you know, some sort of press release and they’re on that. So we kind of work in cooperation with them, even though you could say that, well, competitors certainly within the Netherlands market and then if they’ve got, are there any clients that want to then have training elsewhere out of the Netherlands? And we help them that way. So that’s how we work. That’s, uh, that’s great. And, and I love that. You know, you’re, um, reaching out to even your competitors, which I know we’ll talk more about collaboration, uh, later, but I think that’s just a fantastic example of, of finding a way to do something with your competitor that Mmm.
Julia Feuell: 11:41 Helps you strengthen your product offering. And and your reach as well. Yeah. Yeah. So this next question I ask, and I’ve been asking this for almost four years since I watched the podcast, but it’s so relevant to the times we’re in right now. And that is, um, you know, the creativity that usually appears it’s adversity or a challenge. And I’d never before have we, you know, had there’s opportunity to be creative, um, in the face of a challenge as we sit here talking uni here in the beginning of may, in the middle of world endemic.
Julia Feuell: 12:18 Yes. And so I’m wondering whether it’s this particular one or you know, or, or another one that may be as relatable, but Mmm. What types of creativity are you seeing and have you then working through in face of, of the challenges that we’re faced with right now? Right now? Well, of course, the challenge is that it’s very difficult to know the future and you have to take each day as it comes and that becomes the future and try and work out, um, um, how it’s going to move forward. So everybody as they kind of get through the shockers, grounding airplanes and stopping cruise ships and as destinations have gone on lockdown instead are all knocked down in the UK at this point, time is still locked down. Um, you really can’t do much to move forward. So as, okay, I think I’ve mentioned OTT is being an international platform.
Julia Feuell: 13:16 We have a hundred and what have we got now and a hundred, nearly 190,000, um, registered travel professionals within it. So Oh, role is really, we feel to open up our platform right now and say, look, just come on, take some product training, get out in front of the, that’s the travel professionals and tell them what about yourself. Get them to learn about you. So that then as destination start to unlock and airlines start flying again, then you will be top of mind and can be top of mind of the travelers. And so we’re starting to, to, to do that because we’ve seen about 300% increase in traffic, the small, um, and each month it seems to be getting busier. Since February, we doubled them and we just, I’m getting even busier. So yeah, that’s where we see our role and with the messaging was uh, a lot more about, uh, the crisis, the acute periods of where people were beginning to lock down and that acute sort of the whole world trying to stop from a travel perspective, which has never happened.
Julia Feuell: 14:23 Um, now of course I feel that we’re in a sort of Twilight zone because we are still are knocked down and airlines can’t fly in. We can’t welcome travelers and people are talking about staycations. So the destinations that we’re talking to at the moment, I’m very much talking about, Mmm. Th they’re doing some interesting things. Like, just to give you some examples, a week, Michigan and visit Denmark, both being recording nature sounds, which is a way of explaining, you know, talking about your destination. The Caribbean have been, students are cooking. Egypt has created a three 60 footage of their tunes and the whole historical explanations as you go through it, you know, it’s that, that type of filming that you get where you can go around virtually. I think Kennedy space center sent something for our newsletter yesterday, which is showing that they’re live streaming from a space station, which is just amazing. But if you go and have a look, cause I, I instantly had a look. It’s like living in a computer.
Julia Feuell: 15:25 I think I’d rather be living here and Lockton apart from one day to pick window so I could look at the styles. And so I love that, you know, the destinations are really sort of showing how to be sensitive at this time and we’ve got an important sort of hashtag running around, which is dream now travel later. I don’t know if you’ve seen that hashtag or you have the hashtag where you are. Um, and that seems to be the, the um, the trend, how you explain your, your company destination, your product at the moment in a different way. And we haven’t seen that before. And it’s bringing me a lot of creativity, I feel towards your creative question. Absolutely. Those are some really creative solutions in different ways to experience destinations, um, without being there since we can’t be there right now. But, um, yes, and I have seen that that’s a hashtag dream now travel later.
Julia Feuell: 16:19 And I think that’s just a really great way to, you know, help inspire that dreaming. Mmm. I wanted to go back to, you talked about you have a 300% increase in traffic and nearly 190,000 registered travel professionals. Yeah. And so you talked about opening up the platform and that I want our listeners to understand exactly what that means because I think it’s a really great, uh, opportunity. Um, do elevate the industry. Okay. Eras four, you know, the rebound when people are able to start moving around again. Mmm. And so talk a little bit about what it is that you are, uh, doing and what you mean by opening up. Yeah. Oh, well. So if we’ve, here’s one example. We have Cape town tourism and they’re in three countries at the moment, including the UK and through working collaboration as I know you on a call with them, the castle region, and we can talk about that if you’d like to.
Julia Feuell: 17:22 Um, it made me think more about staycation because the cancer region is saying that the Mmm first part of recovery will be domestic tourism and the regions coming to, to visit Victoria falls and all the beauty that surrounds it. So it got me thinking that she, some of the Mmm two schools that we have when normally they would, yes. You just have a conversation and see who normally who visits you Cape town and they’ll say, Oh, the UK, Germany, Netherlands. And then they create cool says to those markets to train the travel agents or educate them about Cape town in order to encourage tourism to Cape town. So now we’ve offered Cape town a cost to go live in the South African website. Well, they wouldn’t normally be cause they, they would normally not need to advertise, so to speak to the local travel agents there.
Julia Feuell: 18:14 Um, it’s the same with, um, does it have got quite a lot of different training. My name the USA, Australia and Germany and the Netherlands. Um, in order to bring travelers to the UK and we’re going to talk to them about having more context that content here because it covers things like England’s coasts that people might like to go and visit England’s parks, historic cities. And so then we’re weirdly promoting domestic tourism, which, which wouldn’t normally happen. So because we have 17 languages, it would be if there’s anybody there that will help to get to the trade and educate about their destination or about their cruise company or hotel or attraction, then you can, I’m thinking about what matters to you, what would make a big difference to you now if you could, um, to one part of the world or, or even where you are right now, like Cape town and to raise awareness in order to quickly bookings to start trickling back and then running back in as soon as it can do through education, marketing and awareness.
Julia Feuell: 19:21 Absolutely. I think that’s a, that’s a great point. And, um, this whole idea of promoting domestic tourism, Mmm first I think is an important one. Um, and I’m actually curious, and Julia, I don’t, I don’t know if you have an opinion on this or not, but okay. I’m wondering how much of domestic tourism is now going to be part of all of our tourism marketing as we move forward? You know, I think that we might be seeing a complete shift in, um, exactly what, uh, what it means to be doing this type of marketing and yeah. What markets where we’re looking at? Well, I think you’re absolutely right because I’m ashamed to say, I mean I’ve lived in the UK for yeah, a couple of decades now or more even, and I’ve never been, I’ve never been to Scotland, so I’m saying it quietly like no one’s going to hear while we’re recording this, Julia secret’s out. I’m thinking, right, well we should go to school and cause good opportunity to be meaning to go to Scotland just, you see? Yeah. Nice to things are kind of like weekend break. So your usual staycations but then when you need to think of a longer break, when now I can think of a longer break, because you know, Scotland would be at least a week because it takes a day to get there to drive, because that’s nothing to America.
Julia Feuell: 20:47 Also. You’ve got one of these RVs or whatever, so you can be like a little snail. If you need to be self isolating straight away. She didn’t camp right now, it’s probably going to be a good thing. That’s true. Yeah. I think, yeah, you’re right. Maybe it’ll force us to have a look at different things. We haven’t looked at different places. Absolutely. Yeah. Right. Exactly. So we’ve already talked a little bit about collaboration, but I do want to dive in a little bit more to that. And you know, you, you started this conversation right out with, with what I like to call coopertition, which is where competitors come together to create big wins, bigger wins than they can do on their own. You talked about it, uh, very early in this conversation when you talked about the Dutch market and your collaboration in the Netherlands.
Julia Feuell: 21:42 Mmm. And then you’ve also mentioned the Causa region, which is how the two of us became connected, um, through a very large collaboration that’s happening there. Okay. And I’d love to talk a little bit about that collaboration. Um, because I think it’s something, and I will have actually, uh, Jillian beard from the Victoria falls tourism council on the show, but Mmm. You being one of the partners in that project, you know, I think it’s a great example of exactly what we mean by collaboration. And I’m curious if you can share a little bit about Mmm. You know, your part in that and for our listeners sake, maybe a little bit about what, what we’re trying to accomplish there. Yes. I think it’s a really good innovative idea which Jillian had to bring together. Um, the not competing tick, I wouldn’t say so much as some, like I think did you use the word collaborative but you wouldn’t normally think to bring this tech together and it’s taken someone like Julian to sort of be inspired to okay.
Julia Feuell: 22:45 To do that. So for example, we’re going to create what we call a marketplace on OTT. So it’s a collection, Oh, courses, short courses of sort of five or 10 minutes on the different parts. There might be a Victoria falls course, it might be, um, well we’ve already got Botswana. There’s other sort of aspects of, um, beauty and regions within cancer, which will then be brought out and then a small course will be created and then not, that will be all in one sort of area. Um, which will be the castle region isn’t as an area. Um, and so once you’ve then got an idea of where you can go in the castle region and what sort of attractions there are and where you can stay, maybe there’d be costs about the lodges for example. Um, then from there, of course, the next step for anybody [inaudible] uh, an itinerary.
Julia Feuell: 23:36 Um, and so there’s a, a product, the tech platform rather called Webtoon, WB T U, and they’ve created amazing itineraries. So then the travel professional doesn’t need to think anymore. They can say, right, Mmm, this book’s just amazing. And I’ve got some clients that absolutely love to explore, um, nature, and then they can go to the, um, the wetting product to be able to find them the best itinerary for them, for their client. And then, um, eventually when safe to do so, uh, people will travel. Um, because now they’ve got the knowledge of the region, they’ve got the best itinerary. And then there’s other, I’m collaborative, Mmm. Tech pieces that has brought together, um, that provide Mmm. You know, booking tools and all sorts of things that, that make it easy, um, in order to bring more tourism using technology to that particular region. Yeah.
Julia Feuell: 24:32 I think, uh, I think that’s, that’s great. And I, and I do love, you know, Jillian and, uh, billions idea of creating this digital destination and really, you know, having that vision for pulling together all of these different tech pieces, um, under one umbrella, uh, to really drive tourism to, to that area of East Africa. And I think that that’s just fantastic. Yeah, absolutely. Um, are, are there other collaborations that you have been part of or that you have seen, you know, in your years of experience that you think are particularly a noteworthy that you might be able to share? Mmm, I haven’t seen anything to that extent before we’ll come together, both the tech piece of, you know, travel tech piece. I mean the United nations world tourism organization has tried to call upon the travel technology in the world at the moment to help heal destinations.
Julia Feuell: 25:29 And I thought that that was a fantastic initiative that was started very quickly, um, in order to, um, okay to recognize that something needs to happen and some collaborations really need to get going to hope to help the world because sometimes crisises or mostly crisises tend to be in one part of the world or another. Very rarely, well, I don’t think ever in our lifetime have we seen the entire world affected by one thing to the sixth sense. So I thought that, so that closed ended April where they were asking for applications is, and as you know, the castle region with the tech consortium was put forward for that. Be very interesting to see w who applied, what comes out of that well, who they choose as being really helpful for the world. Um, and then these, Mmm, okay. Presented to the ministers, the tourism ministers of the world who then no doubt will use those tools in order to help situation.
Julia Feuell: 26:30 So that’s one thing. Um, we’re also working with associations and their members, they’re going to bring more, uh, training and education of those members. So that’s a sort of a collaborative piece. We’re working with Anton in the UK, Mmm. To bring more training onto their Academy and we’re creating an Academy for, um, other associations as well. So yeah, that’s well the top of mind where it comes to and collaboration. If anything else comes together, all I can think of, I’ll let you know. Yeah, thanks. Um, yeah, I think that was, that’s a really good point about that project that, that the UN, a world travel organization had poured out and regardless of the, uh, applications that they choose to bring forward, I think just by going through that exercise really it’ll be interesting to see what happens outside of that, you know, just the creative thinking that had to go into putting forward any type of application for that.
Julia Feuell: 27:28 And I know there were, um, I think I had heard a number of like 1500 or more that may have been submitted. So, um, it’ll be interesting to see what right and creative collaborations really do come from that. I think that that’s really great and we’ll, we’ll definitely, yeah. Yes, absolutely. Yeah. And so I’m wondering in, in, um, putting together, you know, collaborations, are there any best practices or, or things that you can share with our listeners that really, you know, kind of help make a strong and successful collaboration? Well, certainly in collaborating with OTT, it truly is a partnership because we work with companies on an annual basis looking at all of the marketing that they need to do messaging really, and that they need to have in order to kind of get the best out of the platform. And so for that they really need to, the tips are to keep their content up to date.
Julia Feuell: 28:24 It’s pretty obvious. Um, we have special marketing credits when you can know, do the Blas as you call them, if we’re talking in the UK, um, and different banners and newsletters and notices and things. Um, and then we have an email marketing tool. So once the peak you can see who’s come through and learnt all about your, um, your company and then from there you can okay. Reach out to them via, um, email and send them special offers and notices and, and so, um, and well, so we kind of, Mmm. Encourage incentives as well. Usually we work quite well in terms of prizes. There’s still prizes. It’s going and some people are still be very generous. Um, in terms of things you can win on, on the platform. And, um, so that’s quite good, uh, to, to help engagement. Although that doesn’t seem to be a lot of incentive, so much needed because we’ve got more people than we’ve ever had.
Julia Feuell: 29:23 Hold on to T and I think it’s cause it’s sort of a happy place, you know, it’s sort of an escapism where you can start learning, you know, you can start dreaming about Antigo and the beaches and then, you know, then go to somewhere else and kind of forget about this whole Cove and nightmare. And then of course the webinars are putting together, which will be the learning webinars are going to be a lot of fun, you know, monkey feeding and, and a rum Kate making so the agents can just enjoy that. So there’s a lot of media sites there. Give the opinion and try and work out what’s going to happen next. W we’re not really doing that. We’re just trying to help everyone promote themselves as best as they can and everyone to learn, uh, as best as they can. Um, by accessing the site and accessing the information they need to get the facts that they need to tell the consumers.
Julia Feuell: 30:14 Yeah, absolutely. And I think OTT is a perfect example of a, of a very large collaboration, you know, with your, um, 190,000 travel professionals and, um, what did you say earlier, 22 countrysides and the 17 languages. I mean, that’s, yeah, that’s interesting. Giant network of collaboration and folks in the industry that are ready to get it moving again as soon as, as soon as we, uh, I get the green light. Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Yeah, I think that’s fantastic. Well, I knew this would be a really interesting conversation, but again, I really appreciate you spending time with us. Um, do you have any final thoughts that you’d like to share with our listeners before we say goodbye and also if you could share where they might okay. Find you. Okay, sure. Um, well, one final thought is we’ve teamed up with a chief economist, um, called Peter Norris, um, who’s normally specializes in aviation and um, speaks on conference stages and so on.
Julia Feuell: 31:11 He’s put together a list of questions that we’re going to ask our international agents to complete every month, and it’s called the green shoots survey and it’s going to start measuring the bounce back activity. We’re hoping to see as we move forward, which should probably be a bit grim to begin with while we’re kind of in this Twilight zone lockdown business. But then it starts to move forward and get stronger. So we’re going to do some research, which I hope will help many people and we’ll share it as much as widely as people, which will then help with capacity, for example, capacity planning and um, to sort of see, know what’s more active, which countries are more active, where you should target your destination, um, first and through this, um, through this research. So I just thought I’d mentioned that. Um, but yes, I’m interested in knowing a bit more about OTT for, just want to have a email@example.com.
Julia Feuell: 32:11 Um, and I know, feel free to reach out to me on LinkedIn or email me, uh, firstname.lastname@example.org. Wonderful. Thank you so much and we’ll look forward to following that survey. I think all of, all of the research of the many different segments that we have in this industry is so important. So it’s exciting to hear that you have something in the works as well. And, and Julia, thank you so much for joining us today and we’ll look forward to connecting with you again. No. So, and thank you so much for asking me to talk to you today. Thank you. Thank you for listening all the way to the end of this week’s episode. This gives me a chance to tell you about our weekly. I see. Why am I in case you missed it? The newsletter each week, along with our podcasts episodes, we share an article written by one of the break the ice media team members about the travel and tourism industry. Our articles mirror the mix of industry segments and topics similar to this podcast. To join our newsletter. Text D, O T L six eight six six or visit break the ice media.com forward slash. Blog.