The plight of a newbie | TravelResearchOnline

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The plight of a newbie

I am not sure if two years experience still qualifies me as a “newbie”, but I do know that those years have provided me with a lot of questions and frustrations. Some of the old timers (or Lifers as John Frenaye calls them) are just too jaded, and as an industry, we seem to be a lot fractured.  When asked to put my peeves in writing, I came up with five of the peeviest pet peeves.

1.  CTA? ACC? What? Before I became a travel professional, about the only thing I knew was that they planned trips.  I had no clue about all these initials–ACC, MCC, ECC, CTA, CTC, etc..   Since I did not know about them, how is the public to know about them?  Consumers have  been taught to seek out certain levels of stature when buying a service.  Want  a new home? Find a Realtor.  Need tax help? You’ll be better off with a CPA.  Want a fine gourmet meal instead of the offerings at the local IHOP? Make sure you get a chef, not a cook.  To the average person, all these initials mean nothing because we, as an industry, have not attached any public meaning to them. We have not educated the public about them.  Sure they mean something to us “insiders”. They make a great presentation on our walls, but to the public—they don’t mean a thing. Why?

These certifications are a yardstick by which we can measure our experience and our expertise.  But the public also has to know what they mean.  Why is this important? Look at the recent proliferation of questionable “travel” companies like YTB, Traverus, and World Ventures.  Members of the public put their trust (and money) in these people who don’t have any indication how the industry works, or how to protect the client’s travel interests.  The public does not know to look for a CTA or ACC.  It’s up to us to educate them, and we’re doing a horrible job of it.

2.  You’re paying me HOW much? When I was in high school, I spent time comparing jobs from the Occupational Outlook Handbook.  Travel really appealed to me, but nearly everything else beat it out in one main area– money.  So, I didn’t pursue it until much later in life.

Today, the industry is primarily a commission-only industry.  As a new agent, commissions were hard to come by without an established base.  Luckily, I found a salaried position with a commission bonus.  The low pay leads to a mere trickle of new entrants instead of the waterfall that we’d no doubt have if the wages were higher.  Don’t get me wrong. I have one of the best jobs around – I help people fulfill their vacation dreams.  Why wouldn’t I want to be a part of that?  But, I still have to eat and pay my bills.

3.  Get off your butt and DO something! This is the corollary to my first point.  We must market ourselves to the public.  We must remind them that we’re here.   We must help them understand the benefits we bring to the table.  But we don’t.  ASTA is a good organization for agents.  The public, in general, has been instructed to make sure the agent/agency they work with is an ASTA member.  But, when I really think about it, is ASTA really working for us now? Or are they merely collecting our fees.  They are in a powerful position to serve our interests.  As Emeril would say, let’s kick it up a notch.  ASTA has produced TV spots, newspaper ad inserts, magazine inserts, and other marketing material to help agents convey their professionalism.  Why did they stop?  Why aren’t they doing anything now?  I have to ask why I should pay $250.00 a year to belong.  There is a Catch-22 as well– I can barely find out any information on ASTA’s website without being a member, so I don’t know what they’re doing for the travel community, so I don’t join.  And ASTA is not alone. All of our industry associations really need to better explain what they are doing for their members.

4.  How many acronyms do we NEED? ASTA, NACTA, ARTA, TPN, PATH, STARS, CLIA, IATA.  And those are just a few I can come up with.  These trade organizations are all dedicated to the the travel agent community.  But what’s the difference?  ASTA – American Society of Travel Agents?  Do American travel professionals have certain needs and unique aspects not found in other countries.  NACTA – National Association of Commissioned Travel Agents?  I’m confused on this one – why are commissioned travel agents different from non-commissioned travel agents?  What special needs or unique aspects do they have that aren’t found in the rest of the industry? But in their defense, the name is changing as you read this and will be known as the National Association of Career Travel Agents. ARTA – Association of Retail Travel Agents?  Aren’t we overlapping things in a very big way here?  TPN – Travel Professionals Network?  This one is slightly unique in that it’s a agent-driven group that helps make the distinction between a “real” travel professional and one that isn’t…well, real.  I am sure you get the idea, but, shouldn’t that be what a group like ASTA should be doing? Can we get one or two organizations to represent our interests?

5.  Your FREE Travel Weekly Subscription! Funny in some ways and not so funny in others. Like many of you, I have a free subscription to Travel Weekly.  I find the information it contains to be relevant, and it’s a good break from the weekly grind.  But, why must we suffer through phone call after phone call asking us to verify our subscription?  I understand needing to do so once a year to make sure the lists are up to date; but a few weeks ago, I spoke with a subscription agent who called about a former colleague’s subscription.  She had retired from our company and the industry. She had left the building.  I asked that her subscription be canceled.  A few days later, she called back, wanting to verify the same colleague’s subscription.  Again, I told her she had retired, and please cancel it.  The third time she called a week later, I couldn’t be as polite as I had before – maybe I should have confirmed it and had it sent to Travel Weekly.

I subscribe to most trade publications and except for Travel Weekly, they all use e-mail to verify subscriptions – even the print ones.  So for all other publications I can do this online in a few seconds, yet it take multiple phone calls for Travel Weekly. There has to be a better way!

I am sure that there are more peeves to be had. What are yours? Why not leave them below in a comment?

Steve Cousino, CTA is a two year industry veteran with  Grand Crowne Travel in Branson, MO.  He holds Lifestyle Specialist designations in Luxury Travel and Gay/Lesbian Travel, and is known for specializing in cruises, Western European tours, group travel, and culinary-themed travel.  He can be reached at sacousino@gmail.com.

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