Call Your Travel Professional | TravelResearchOnline


Call Your Travel Professional

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?

  6 thoughts on “Call Your Travel Professional

  1. Geoff Millar says:

    I would be willing to do all the above if it brought more credibility to the industry and travel sales. It would add to my answer to the question I get all the time, “why should we use a travel agent rather than do it ourselves”

    There would have to be some heavy advertising to go along with this to begin educating the public concerning the accredidation. We can have all the credibility we want but if the public does not know about it, it would not have a lot of impact.

  2. Richard Earls says:

    Geoff – good points. I have always envisioned the public relations being best accomplished at the grassroots level with direction and creative resources from a central association. ~ Richard

  3. David Appleby says:

    I have listened to this debate for a long time. (BTW – I couldn’t find any of those new requirements on NACTA’s website).

    What constitutes a real travel agent anyway? Who decides that and where do they get the authority to do so? Is the way things functions now really all that bad or does it just grate type “A” personalities? You tell me. Is this idea really a step forward or a step backward? I have enough hoops to jump through in my life without having some self-appointed Travel Industry authority hand me a bunch more.

    The Travel Industry is a sales industry and at its core being a “Travel Agent” is being a salesman whose product is travel related. Knowledge of product and sales skills are his tools. The better he knows what he is selling and the sharper are his skills to sell that product the better Travel Agent he becomes.

    We already have so many designations they will not fit on our business cards. Does CTA, CTC, ACC, MCC, ECC and a lot of other designations that suppliers give out mean anything to the buyer anyway?

    Take a test? On what? At who’s expense? Who administers it? What about the 100’s of different niche TA’s.

    Be careful what you ask for . . . you may just get it and in the end find it has a lot more baggage than any of us want. The “law of unexpected consequences” just might play a bigger role than can be seen right now.

    This whole concept of some sort of universal certification and the desire to have one for TA’s is understandable but it is also both unnecessary and impractical. It will be about as practical as developing and utilizing a universal certification for salesmen. One size will never fit all.

    Actually, the present ad hoc system while admittedly not perfect has served the industry pretty well. The “hobbyists, pseudo agents and MLM types” become bored, broke, exasperated and/or disinterested and fall by the wayside or they will, somewhere along the line, develop into “real” travel agents. All the while the serious sellers of travel will keep on developing their knowledge base and selling skills.

    The answer to “hobbyists, pseudo agents and MLM types” actually lies mostly on the supplier side. They ultimately decide who sells their product.

  4. Staci Blunt says:

    Yes, yes, and yes! I strongly believe that our industry needs to start somewhere and have some documented qualifications in order to sell travel. After all, I can’t just go out and start selling houses without being regulated and trained first. I would be willing to be tested or whatever it takes and I have worked in this industry over 20 years. I have letters after my name too, but the public doesn’t know or care what these are. They do care about having a professional handle their dream vacation though, and how would they know if a person claiming to be a travel agent didn’t just start doing it last week and rips them off. Yes, they can do their research through some organizations like the BBB and ASTA (and NACTA, OSSN, etc), but not every agent is a member. I can check if my real estate agent or contractor is licensed, but not so with travel agencies. Selling travel can result in serious money being paid out and an exchange of trust through private information being shared. I think we seriously do need to consider travel industry regulations. Tour guides overseas are also often trained and licensed by a regulating government authority, but anything goes here in the USA, and you never really know what you’re gonna get. I think qualifications of some type would add credibility back to our industry, because so many of the public believe that we are obsolete. It would definitely require some discussion and decisions to get the ball rolling on this, but I think that our industry is worth it and deserves it.

  5. Richard Earls says:

    David: A very thoughtful and wonderful reply, many thanks. I promise to respond.


  6. Toni Lanotte-Day says:

    I personally applaud NACTA for being brave enough to tackle this topic. It shows that they care more about the quality of members than quantity. I am sure suppliers will be looking a lot more closely where they want to spend their marketing dollars as their overall budgets shrink from year to year. They will prefer to work with agents serious about their business, sales and education over those who complain and refuse to evolve with the times. The times in our industry have changed and it’s time that we as a profession step up to the plate and be held accountable. I say “Get on the Train” or you’ll be left standing at the station!

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