I have received a number of e-mails from agents and agencies wanting more information on how to start a local travel agent association. This is not a very complicated process. In fact, it is as simple as picking a date and venue that has a community room (such as a local library, restaurant or hotel that is willing to let you have meeting space at a low cost) then emailing a flyer to agencies in your area asking them to join you either for breakfast or an evening social.
Have a clear-cut agenda on why you need a local travel agent association, the benefits of having forming the group and a mission statement. Our association’s mission is to promote our value to the local media and consumers using one voice.
The challenge is to keep the momentum going and get people involved. It helps to enlist agents in your area to help you. We have found that it is critical to have structure such as officers and an agenda at every meeting. Our president, Ike Reynolds, is not only a veteran travel agency owner but is well-respected in our community. Likewise, our public relations chair worked in local media before becoming a travel agent.
It is a good practice to schedule speakers to discuss important topics such as social media. For example, our next meeting’s speaker will discuss linkedin. Get creative with guests and always be sure the topics are pertinent so your meetings are valuable resources for agents. If you have local supplier business development managers, invite them to come as well. Keep your meeting flowing and avoid running too long. If someone has returned from a trip or fam, have them give a brief overview of their thoughts on hotels, etc. Likewise, keep the group informed of any trade shows or fam opportunities.
Why a local travel agent association as opposed to a national group? The national travel organizations do not have the resources to promote our value on a local level. With the advent of the Internet, consumers think we have gone the way of the dinosaur. Not only do we need to disprove this, but we need to reach out to those who don’t have a passport or have never cruised and are booking online. There is plenty of business to go around for all of us. We need to educate the consumer as to our value. Many local businesses and chambers are using “Buy Local” as an effective marketing campaign. We need to embrace this concept and stress that we support our local communities, support other local businesses, our schools, little league teams, pay taxes and are involved in local charities, boards etc. Use social media such as Facebook, Twitter and linkedin to promote your association and our value.