The four words above are found on the advertisements of numerous travel suppliers. There is, of course, a problem. Without a standard definition of “travel professional” who is the consumer going to call? Is it not highly likely that the consumer is going to call the best marketer they have encountered advertising themselves as a travel professional instead of the best travel agent? Moreover, there is no effective way for the consumer to research the background, training or expertise of any given travel agent. How is the consumer reading an Royal Caribbean advertisement going to know who to call, and once they do, how can they be assured of the qualifications of the agent with whom they speak?
The National Association of Career Travel Agents (NACTA) recently announced it is raising its criteria for membership. The new rules require the member to be a professional travel agent actively engaged in selling retail travel to the general public in compliance with all relevant laws and carry Errors and Omissions insurance. Ann van Leeuwen, vice president of NACTA, indicated the organization wants to recruit agents who want a career and to eliminate the hobbyist. Ann’s NACTA team echoed those same goals:
NACTA recently announced it’s now accepting as members only established career travel agents who actively sell travel to the public. Enforcing new requirements will allow NACTA to continue to grow membership with high-quality professional travel agents. – Bob Duglin, NACTA Director of Sales & Industry Relations
Through new membership criteria, we clearly set ourselves apart from other associations and acknowledge our members’ professionalism. Members can be proud to be recognized as travel professionals in the NACTA community. – Lisa Watson, Director of Marketing & Special Events
NACTA’s move is a good start and I hope there is some momentum to it to keep the ball rolling forward.
A common definition of a profession is a “group of people pursuing a common learned art”. Typically this involves a common body of knowledge, a formal education process, a code of conduct and standards of entry into the profession. But by this definition, travel agents in their current state are falling a bit short of a profession. Not only that, but the difference between a hobbyist and a bona-fide travel agent becomes a matter of degree, rather than a matter of kind.
That, my friends, is a problem for our industry. Because when anybody can be a travel professional then nobody is a travel professional. Travel agents have failed to construct and adopt sufficient barriers to entry into the profession. There is indeed a common body of knowledge, but there is no formal education process and no generally accepted code of conduct. ASTA has a common code of conduct, but there is no requirement to ascribe to such a code to be a travel professional.
Had there been a formal educational requirement, such as Realtors are required to undergo, or had there been a standardized testing regimen, many very good agents in the industry right now would not have taken up the profession. But neither would the vast majority, perhaps even 100%, of the hobbyists, pseudo agents and MLM types.
It is, I know, threatening to contemplate the possibility of having to prove oneself after years of specialization in an industry. Many established agents do not like the prospects of having to take a test or obtain a certification. Yet these small barriers to entry would inhibit and possibly eliminate the pseudo agent phenomenon. Moreover, the barriers to entry would very likely increase the value of the professional travel agent to suppliers, not only by virtue of superior product knowledge, but also as a result of basic economics: fewer agents means each agent is more valuable. Consider the economics of the situation. Standards would almost certainly mean your income would increase as the available supply of hobbyist “travel agents” decreased.
Another small, incidental, benefit – education and testing requirements would foster the revival of a network of travel schools nationwide that are sorely missed by established travel agencies looking for new agents and by entrants into the industry looking for solid training.
Consider for a moment. Would you as a professional travel agent be willing to “go back to school”? Would you take a standardized test to prove out your expertise and professionalism? Would you pay an annual fee to promote your profession and educate the public? Would you take a professional ethics course as a part of the right to wear the label of “travel professional”? Would you support a drive to effectively elevate the status of your profession? If so, you can be a part of the answer. If not, this editorial asserts you are a part of the problem.
I mean to be provocative. Discuss the issue with the leadership of your consortia and host agencies. Ask your ASTA, NACTA and OSSN chapter leaders what else can be done. Because here’s the issue: the next time a member of the public picks up the telephone after seeing a supplier ad exhorting them to “Call Your Travel Professional” who are they going to call?