'Students win by being ableBy Treena Shapiro
to make real-world decisions,
and the community wins with
better-trained travel agents'
Merrily Burns didn't want her travel agency anymore, so she gave it away.
Burns, former owner of the Protea Travel Agency on Keeaumoku Street, is now an advisor and instructor in the Huaka'i a Kapi'olani Travel Learning Center, a full-service travel agency run by students on the Kapiolani Community College campus.
Burns said teaching travel industry courses interfered with her ability to serve her clients at Protea, so she offered KCC the business. If they had rejected it, she would have closed the agency.
"It's a win for the college because we can operate a hands-on program," Burns said at an open house last week. "Students win by being able to make real-world decisions, and the community wins with better-trained travel agents."
Since the agency is now in a classroom, there's no overhead and almost no risk. The only thing at stake is Burns' Airline Reporting Commission appointment, which allows the agency to book tickets. Her appointment is protected with quality-control safeguards on computers, and actual bookings are overseen by Burns or a second qualifying agent.
Students manage all the rest. Each semester, Burns teaches a different set of food science and hospitality education students how to operate a travel agency. "Twenty-one new managers every semester -- now there's a challenge," Burns said.
Jun Nakamura, a student in the travel agency operations class, said she originally thought the class would be a simulation, and has found the real experience more rewarding. "We're talking with real airlines and hotels," she said.
So far, the agency has set up an educational tour to China for KCC culinary arts students. Its next project could be handling a group of 100 people coming to the college from the mainland.
"Our primary target is students," Burns explained. "It's all campus-related types of business."
Any commission students earn from ticket sales will stay in the department.
"It's targeted primarily to keep abreast of technology changes that are so necessary in the industry today," Burn said.
Dheeshana Ameresekere, 23, has found the hands-on experience interesting, but said she wishes there was more time for it. The class only meets six hours a week.
But that's enough time for students to gain some practical experience. "It gives us all a chance to see if we want to work in a travel agency," she said.
Her classmate Sherri Izuno, 21 -- part of a marketing team that produced a logo, business cards and fliers -- said she was surprised by the amount of work. "I thought the class would be really fun. I didn't realize it would be this much hard work," she said.
Izuno said she isn't prepared to jump right into a job with a travel agency. "I think I still need to get my degree," she said.