Do we need mandatory certification? | TravelResearchOnline


Do we need mandatory certification?

In my home state and many states across the country travel agents are not regulated.  There aren’t any education, licensing or insurance requirements. Travel agents do not have to submit to criminal background checks. Anyone can be a travel agent. The infiltration of “card mills or MLMs” is out of control.

Other professionals in my state such as cosmetologists, massage therapists, plumbers, real estate agents, accountants etc. all have to meet mandatory certification requirements and be licensed. Why are travel agents not regulated? Travel agents are allowed to handle thousands of dollars without mandatory licensing, no educational requirements or meet minimum financial standards. Nor, are they required to have errors and omission insurance.

If ever there is an industry that needs regulation– it is the travel industry. Travel generates a vast amount of money. Travel is sexy, travel is glamorous. The ads are all over the internet. Travel like a rock star. Get free travel. Earn commissions on your own travel. Travel like a travel agent. Learn the secrets of traveling for free.  Earn money in the trillion dollar travel industry.  Fly first class.  Retire & travel for free.

We sorely need standardization, testing and licensing that will be recognized not only in our own states but across state lines.  This will not only create professionalism but gives us the respect we deserve. In addition, it will help protect the consumer.  Who is the logical choice to do this? ASTA? IATAN? The Travel Institute? The industry is already fragmented. We have multiple sites that offer cards such as CLIA, IATAN, OSSN. Do we need federal regulation? Or, do we need tougher state seller of travel laws? Lots of tough questions but no easy answers.

(Editors Note: For TRO’s official editorial position on the topic of travel agent regulation, please see this article).

Mary Stephan is the President of Allons Travel based in Powell, OH. For more information, you can contact Mary at

  19 thoughts on “Do we need mandatory certification?

  1. Ildiko Varga says:

    I totally agree with Mary Stephan ! I am a 35 year veteran of the Industry and I believe that by creating a Licensing Entity, would protect passengers and would eliminate fly-by-night companies and so-called-agents, to be in charge of people’s lifes. It would also create a platform for the Professionals, thus giving us a VOICE !

  2. Starting as an outside agent for a small mom and pop brick and mortar back in 2001, there was no requirement for me to be licensed to sell travel here in New York State.

    Currently, there is still no legislature passed that require travel sellers in NY State to require a license.

    Having started my own host business in February 2005, I realize the strong need for legislature.

    When attending FAMS, trade shows and/or seminars offered by our travel suppliers, I am sometimes appalled by some of my peers. Not only do they not come to functions, in my personal opinion, not professionally dressed for the occasion, but their behavior is offensive.

    Priding myself on professionalism, I make it a point to meet with suppliers, forming great relationships with them. I want them to know how seriously I take my job and how important I believe our relationships are.

    That said, I am hoping that licensing will be required in New York State, not solely for the purpose as a revenue-maker, but so that it will weed out the folks who aren’t as serious about their profession.

  3. Trish G says:

    I’ve thought this same thing for years! I expect that there would be some good hard working agents that would find this to be a hardship if licenses were required, but I feel that for the integrity of our industry and proction of our clients, this needs to happen.

  4. Dave says:

    Come on…do we really want more regulations in this world. This sounds like whining from somebody who wants more barriers to entry for her competitors. There is a huge difference between travel agents and most of the other occupations you listed. There are already general laws that deal with the handling of money by any business so the fact that travel agents “handle thousands of dollars” does not create a need for licensing. Yes, I am a travel agent…in fact, I own a fairly large agency, but I’ll never stand behind more government regulation of any industry. It just creates costs and barriers to entry. Learn how to compete just because you are the best at what you do.

  5. Geoff Millar says:

    I agree with you. We should have some certification to earn a license to sell travel. This topic has been talked about constantly for the last few years. One of the problems is no one can come to an agreement on what should be tested, since there are now so many specializations in the industry, and who should do the testing. Even the state requirements do not do testing but just collect money for licenseing.

    A good example of this happened to me yesterday. I get a lot of calls from other travel agents. I don’t know why but when they see our website they think we are a tour operator. Thsi lady said she was a travel agent working with a birde for her honeymoon and wanted to know what a price for a Sandals Resort would be. I explained to her that I was also a travel agent. Her comment was OK could I still let her know what the price would be. I asked her if she already had a price. She said yes so I told her my price was the same since Sandals did not allow discounting. She did not know this so she asked me if I could give her prices for some other resorts that did allow discounting. I said no, she would need to contact a tour operator to get prices. She then proceeded to ask me what a tour operator was. Out of couriosity I asked her what the brides budget was and she said $5,000 to $6,000 for a week, but she had told them that they probably were not going to get anything for that. I told her to have her clients call me and hung up.

  6. I agree. We need to have mandatory training requirements even before the doors of any agency is opened. I am so tired of people doing the MLM travel just so they can book their own travel and they don’t learn anything while the real agents like myself are out there trying to best service the client. It also means that the cruise lines and hotels, etc have to pay commissions to people who are a really their customer base. Allowing this practice cuts profits significantly and makes people think agents are not needed. Some vendors have stopped allowing bookings from one MLM that I know about and had a multimillion dollar case about the issue as well. No one should be allowed to have the benefits associated with IATAN, CLIA, TRUE ID, etc unless they are certified in at least 1 area of travel with a vendor within 30 days of purchase and have booked at least 2 clients other than themselves within 6 months if they have no previous travel industry experience. They should have to prove that they are serious about this as a career choice and not a hobby. It may even be good to require people to have a host or franchise for at least 1 year before starting on their own. We need to have agents more respected for the travel industry to survive. The thing my clients like the most about doing business with me is that they get to find out about things they did not know where available to them. All that information I impart comes from my certifications.

  7. Barbara Pugh says:

    It seems to me that at the very least they should required a background check, esp. for new home-based agents. there are too many scammers out there that give us all a bad name. I’ve been in the business 19 yrs and am now home-based, but I would still do it, if required.

  8. Julie Summers says:

    I also get calls from “travel agents” wanting commission on the trip they plan to book with me. For awhile I was nice, thinking they are new and need to learn. Then I realized, they are really not agents at all, just trying to make a quick buck with a flim flam website. I told the last “agent” that if I book this cruise, I am the one who gets the commission. She was confused and wanted to know why. She wanted me to use her IATA. I finally told her to call the cruise line and ask them about agent rates herself. Sheesh!

  9. Laura says:

    I agree with Mary. Having a professional certification process I believe would benefit both agents and consumers. Allowing anyone that can fog a mirror to call themselves a travel agent has done nothing but hurt the credibility for all of us. I can’t see why anyone would be opposed to having professional standards in place for our industry.

  10. Maria Ramirez-Gregg says:

    I agree with most of you. The industry also is so fragmented that you can spend thousand of dollars on memberships at many of the associations that are reputable and you know that the price of memberships is not cheap. So, I will love to have a more regulated and uniform industry.

    I’m tired with deals with some of these people at MLMs that don’t know what Conde Nast Traveler or Travel + Leisure are. I have one the other day that asked my what was USAir. Geez, if you are going to sell travel get a least a basic course or read some magazines. They are free at the local library.

  11. Allene McDaniel says:

    Just a question for those of you who believe professional certification should be required . . . what type of certification would you suggest? . . . and what type of certification did the majority of “seasoned” agents have prior to coming into the business? Don’t get me wrong I do believe a certain level of education is required, but with any profession this is an ongoing process.

  12. Joyce Williams says:

    What about the online travel sites? Travelocity, Expedia Will all of the call centers employees need to be licensed? After 25 years in the business, I do believe education of your product is very important. Regardless of the product. Just because you can pass a test and receive a license, does not make you a Travel Agent.

  13. What should be controlled? Not all agents can be experts on all travel. Protecting clients would suggest customer service. If regulation is required, the rich will benefit. OTA’s will dish out money for any kind of licensing needed, but the customer will still not be protected. Those of us who try to take care of each client but need to compete with the richer agencies, don’t make millions of dollars and may find it a hardship.

  14. Art Vandelay says:

    Brilliant………more government regulation…that’s the ticket! Let’s pay a government that cannot figure out how to put glue on a car registration sticker for regulating our travel business!!!

  15. CHarlie B says:

    Having read all of this is interesting. My question to those who want this, whos is going to regulate the sellers of travel online such as Orbitz, Expedia etc. That is who is hurting your business not the ones who have a bad appearance etc.
    By regulation you are driving your costs up without a return. Consumers are smart today and can tell if someone does not know waht they are doing and will not do business with them.

  16. Laura says:

    I think the biggest concern is not the online agencies, but the YTB’s of the industry. There was a guy who was giving out quotes to a lead he purchased online. Turns out the “client” was actually a YTBer who had no idea how to create a quote. This is the kind of stuff that needs to be stopped. If we had minimum standards, stuff like this wouldn’t happen.

  17. Eugene L says:

    Great article, it has some good points. As for the protection of the consumer i am all for it. Being a Professional,goes with out saying. I have been in this industry for little over a year,through a MLM, but I make it my Business to KNOW my Business. Company that i am with has training at least three time s a week and most of the training is with suppliers on how to sell their packages and use their websites to book travel. With my Host Agency,we are giving the option to become certified as an agent with continued education or just refer travel for a small commission.of cost I choose to be certified with Continued education, I have Become a destination specialist in six regions and plan to continue on. I am the type the like to be treated professionally,so I continue to learn so I can return the favor!

  18. Denise says:

    This is a GREAT article, however I think the agent should be given an option as to what type of certification she/he wishes to pursue. Each agent should opt to have either ACC, MCC,LCS, ECC, ECCS, or, CTA, CTC, and their business should be incorporated as well as carry their own insurance policy. By having all three: (1) CLIA certified or Travel Institute certified, (2) incorporation of business and (3) own insurance policy TOTALLY VALIDATES THE INDIVIDUAL from fly by nighters!!!

  19. This is a topic that engenders strong feelings on both sides. In reply to Allene McDaniel, the answer is quite simple. Up until 1995 the airlines through ARC did a very good job of vetting and then certifying the retail component of the industry. ARC can certainly no longer be the “big brother”. All of the other industries mentioned are self regulating; when the government is involved it is with the clear support and direction of the industry (see AMA!/ADA! for example).
    The questions are difficult. Until we are willing to come to grips with them we will continue to see the “wild wild west” in all of our day to day dealings.

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