The other week, I had a fairly deep discussion with a colleague whose opinion I respect very much. We covered many aspects of the industry including my well known stance on Multi Level Marketing and the recent surge of organizations and individuals looking to “credential” our industry. The question came up, “What exactly makes an agent an agent?” (Disclaimer: this column will ask many questions and answer few.)
When you really delve into it, you will quickly realize that the whole credentialing thing is a very complex issue. We discussed a colleague that we both know to be the consummate professional. He has been in business for many years, developed a very profitable niche market that sells in excess of $5 million of a specific destination in a year. But, he is not ARC or IATAN approved. His agency does not hold a CLIA certification, nor are they members of any trade organization. Does his lack of credentials make him any less professional than someone that does possess them? I felt not, but my colleague felt that perhaps they did. He said in essence this could be a consumer with no training other than extensive vacation travel and a plan on how to subsidize future trips. I was conflicted– he was correct, but I also knew that this was not the case here.
So when someone finally picks up the ball as Richard Earls has suggested, how will they define a professional in this industry? Experience? Credentials? Training? A combination of all? And does the lack of any one preclude someone from claiming the title?
Many feel that any combination should be doable, but where do you draw the line? Do those twelve visits to Cancun make you a Cancun expert or a travel professional? Does the successful completion of an online Cancun Specialist program now make you a travel professional? How about three visits and the course? It is all so muddy.
My solution? Perhaps it makes sense to look at the word “professional” and its derivative “profession”. Maybe a professional is one who works in a profession. A wine collector is not a vintner. Someone who keeps a diary is not a novelist. Then it makes sense that someone who travels is not necessarily a travel professional.
I think IATAN has the right idea. By showing that you are earning income in a profession you should be able to lay claim to the title of travel professional. IATAN requires proof of income in the amount of $5000 a year resulting from non-personal sales. In today’s environment that equates to roughly $50,000 to $75,000 in sales per year which is very attainable even for the newest newcomer. That threshold needs to be raised, but for now it’s a good start!
Another organization that seems to have it right is the National Association of Realtors. They trademarked the word “Realtor” and only those that pass their criteria are allowed to use the title. They are also very protective of their brand and will go to extremes to defend it. Why can’t the travel industry take their cue from the real estate industry? We share many parallels. We have MLMs and Card Mills. They have Help U Sell. We both provide services to clients and do not have any true inventory to maintain. For the time being, we both receive the bulk of our income in the form of commission.
I think our industry could learn a lot from the real estate play book. It seems each time we turn around there is another hurdle to jump. The lack of respect that we have shown ourselves has allowed the deterioration of a once valued title. It has now taken a very serious toll on the morale of a great industry. Just the other day I was reading a blog encouraging people to sign up “broke” people to become travel agents. Is this where we are? Have we stooped this low? Is this where we are headed? Is someone going to stand up? My vote is for ASTA! The time is now.
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