Hey Aunt Barbara! Drop dead! | TravelResearchOnline

Hey Aunt Barbara! Drop dead!

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.

  6 thoughts on “Hey Aunt Barbara! Drop dead!

  1. Ann Petronio says:

    Kelly- I think you missed the point. John is not putting down home-based agents, he’s talking about the difference between a trained professional (regardless of where he/she works) and an enthusiastic amateur who decided to “sign up to be a travel agent”. All of us were newcomers at some point, and many of us came to the travel world later in life as a second or third career, but there’s a reason that most professions have some minimum training or certification process in place. As a professional travel consultant (who does happen to work out of my home, though that’s irrelevant) I did a lot of preparation and training before “hanging up my shingle”: Community college courses, an apprenticeship at a local storefront agency, and lots of supplier training. Even now, with seven very successful years in the business, I invest in continual ongoing education. I am not “Aunt Barbara” now, and I wasn’t when I first started out either. The difference is the level of professionalism and training, not where one’s desk is located.

  2. bobbi Krueger says:

    To that I say Amen. I struggled long and hard for the past 36yrs, ended up managing an agency for 7yrs, home based (as my Mother got Alzheimers), for the last 16yrs, it was a struggle to stay afloat, made the decision to move to Florida 7 yrs ago, after building a large clientle in the Chicago area, it is like starting from scratch all over again, to gain clients confidence in your intelligence, and knowledge. College, was my first venue in the beginning, for 2yrs, Many travel ventures, To numerous to list. People still question, I thought Travel Agents were a thing of the past since computers came into being . I highly recommend learn, learn, through seminars, whether in person or on their web-site, no matter how many years in the business,
    Thanks for listening,
    Bobbi

  3. Kelly,

    Switzerland dialing in here. Both you and John F are right. 😉 But Ann makes a valid point (which I think is a bit more direct than John’s tongue-in-cheek Aunt Barbara analogy). There’s a difference between deciding one day I’m a travel agent, versus getting some training / mentoring under your belt first. I too have been in the business now for over 7 years, like Ann. But for a solid 6+ months before “opening shop” I poured through ever page of your books, the Ogg’s books, and even took some online travel courses through a California community college (all of their courses were based on The Travel Institute’s materials). And I spent 6 months researching every host agency known to man, before narrowing it down to one (that was supportive of newbie agents). I joined industry forums (similar to TRO) and aligned myself with “old crusties” (as Deano may call ’em) who were willing to guide me gently through the industry.

    So I definitely do not discourage newbies, we need the “fresh blood” in the industry. However, I do encourage folks to train, read, and be mentored, and not just wake up one morning, pay a fee, and say “yup, I’ve cruised twice, I’m a travel agent now.” 😉

  4. Tracy Kidd says:

    Thank goodness for the “old crusties” I would be lost without all of you 🙂

  5. I’m chiming in with Ann and Susan on this issue. I have been in the business for 34 years; I was a fledgling agent and freshman in high school when I started. I took many courses, including a ROP course and I interned at our family travel agency after school. I learned all the “important” stuff back then: hand-writing tickets; interpreting the OAG; EVERY SINGLE airport code in the World. Most importantly, our class participated in role-playing. We learned how to speak on the phone to a potential client, how to listen, how to dress for the office, etc. These things are apparently not taught today. When I see how agents (or people who call themselves agents) act and dress at seminars and fams I just cringe. Many of the lessons I learned stuck with me to this day; they were invaluable. Maybe it would be useful to include agent/client etiquette in courses offered in these days.

  6. Ann, et. al.

    I don’t really think we’re in disagreement. As I noted, many people enter the profession with the highest standards and a commitment to professionalism — like Susan. But no one becomes a a pro over night. Bobbi and Ina, for example, have 30+ years of experience under their belts.

    Nor do I doubt that there are some dunderheads in the business, as there are in all professions (see also: Congress). I will also submit that not all of these less than admirable types are newbies. Some have been in the industry for years. Some of them run ARC-appointed agencies of long standing (card mills anyone?).

    What prompted me to write was the unspoken assumption that newcomer=idiot. We all know that’s not true and it betrays an anti-home-based bias that flourished in the nineties. It’s time to put it to rest.

    Finally, in my (perhaps feeble) defense, let me say that all the points the commenters have raised about what a travel agent needs to know are addressed in my course. My larger point is that we in the profession should reach out to Aunt Barbara and encourage her to get the training she needs. Mocking her does little good.

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