John Frenaye’s recent column, “Aunt Barbara’s Travel,” made me chuckle, but it also made me wince. It betrayed an attitude that was all too common in the dawn of what I like to call the home-based travel revolution and which I thought had pretty much faded away.
I would like to come to the defense of Aunt Barbara. But before I do let me alert you to an obvious bias on my part. I publish a course for people who want to become home-based travel agents. Many of them enter the business with a resume very similar to that John imagines for his (I hope) fictional Aunt Barbara: “She has gone on some great trips. She has always loved traveling. She knows her way around Google and TripAdvisor like no one’s business. She always finds a deal.”
Clearly I am on Aunt Barbara’s side. John lists a number of things that a professional travel planner “may” have. (Note that weasel word “may”) Let me suggest a few things that the Aunt Barbara’s of the world may bring to the table.
- A passion for travel that the professional, worn down by years of dealing with debit memos, might find hard to summon up.
- The time to spend to really get to know her clients’ needs and wants because, after all, she doesn’t have that many clients.
- The ability to make house calls at the client’s convenience, because she doesn’t have a busy storefront office to watch over.
- A willingness to learn, because she approaches her business seriously, even though she may only be planning to do it part time.
- The leisure to do more research than a busy 20- or 30-year pro has time for.
- A decision to concentrate on a niche with which she has had years of personal experience and get to know it intimately.
I take issue with John’s apparent belief that Aunt Barbara and, by extension, other newcomers will always make precisely the wrong choice and guarantee a bad experience for those who book with them. Now obviously he has stacked the deck a bit to make his point, but methinks the gentleman doth protest too much.
While Aunt Barbara might make some errors, she might just as easily hit home run after home run, based on her years of travel experience and first-hand knowledge of the places she recommends. And are travel professionals immune from error or omission? If they are, why do they buy that insurance? Indeed, there are some kinds of damage that only an experienced pro can pull off. As I like to say, no home-based agent has ever run a bust-out operation.
John’s larger point about professionalism is well taken, of course. But being professional and being a newcomer are not mutually exclusive. Will newcomers make mistakes as they learn the ropes? Of course. I sure did. Some expensive ones. Those who make too many mistakes will drop out of the business, but others will learn and forge ahead, much like today’s seasoned professionals did in the course of their careers.
Which brings me to my larger point. If all consumers heeded John’s sage advice, where would the next generation of “travel professionals” come from? You have to start somewhere. Personally, I welcome Aunt Barbara to the industry and wish her good luck and Godspeed.
John’s negative attitude towards Aunt Barbara is all too reminiscent of the vitriol hurled at home-based agents in the nineties. (At least he didn’t call her a Kitchen Table Mabel!) In fact, it was the same tune being sung by ASTA and the trade press. Then ASTA realized it couldn’t survive without home-based agents and went out and bought NACTA. And the trade press, TRO included, is now fighting among itself for the eyeballs of the Aunt Barbaras of the world. Home-based travel agents are the fastest growing segment of the travel distribution channel. Heck, they’re the only growing segment. And how is that growth fueled if not by Aunt Barbaras?
So, please, let us put this animosity towards newcomers to the industry behind us. Let us welcome them and extend a guiding hand. We are blessed to live in one of the few countries on earth where you can wake up in the morning and say, “I want to be a travel agent” and then go out and make it happen. That’s the American Dream. Let’s not presume to say that some people are unworthy of pursuing it.
Kelly Monaghan, CTC, is a writer and publisher who has been covering the home-based travel agent scene since 1994. Prior to his entry into the travel industry he was a sales trainer for major companies such as AT&T, Arrow Electronics, and Brinks and wrote widely on sales and marketing for a number of professional publications. HisHome-Based Travel Agent Success Course has been endorsed by OSSN and The Travel Institute. His publishing company, The Intrepid Traveler specializes in Orlando area attractions and offers discounts to travel agents who wish to use its guides as gifts or premiums.