Way back in 2008, not more than a few weeks after we launched TRO’s editorial pages, I argued the travel professional community needed a set of formal standards by which to operate. Last week I waded into the same waters, tempting out a number of rebuttals, some emailed in private, not entirely happy with my editorial. Texas travel agent David Appleby wrote a particularly strong and well-articulated comment and I promised a response. I first want to thank David for his comments and the opportunity to respectfully disagree.
David’s commentary asserts the present scenario, while not perfect, has served the industry pretty well. This is actually the very early point at which we diverge. I think the past 15 years has roughed our industry up pretty badly and our lack of exclusivity has not served us well. We have emerged from the ravages of disintermediation not as a unified profession but as a band of rugged and tough survivors. The world and the industry continues to evolve, however, and without standards, the profession will continue to dilute. What has tested us may have made us stronger. Now it’s time to prove we also are wiser.
Without a common set of standards, in fact, it is difficult to argue there is a profession at all.This is why I think it important for organizations like NACTA, OSSN, ASTA, host agencies, consortia and others to require their membership to adhere to a set of well documented standards. These are not arbitrary associations. These organizations are made up of travel planners who need to decide the course of their corporate professional future.
Likewise, the Travel Institute has for years produced a number of excellent programs for travel professionals to further their base knowledge and skill set. Yet, there is no testing requirement to be called a “travel agent.” Self policing our industry is very likely the only viable avenue in the absence of a will to mandate and enforce barriers to entry.
Does it matter anyone can call themselves a travel agent? Here’s the rub and where David Appleby has a good point. With no barriers to entry, with no professional standards, it is fair to ask whether the issues are actually important to the profession. Yet, each time the consumer media prints an article favorable to the travel agent we celebrate as though a child from a milk carton has been found and rescued. I assert the demonstrated professional insecurity is the direct result of exactly how poorly the past 15 years has treated our profession and the need to create more elevated standards to protect our economic interests.
If anyone can be a travel professional, then the title will have little meaning to the public. Name another profession with no certification, no education requirements, no testing. Anyone who claims to be a travel agent IS a travel agent under the current schema.
It is imperative for the industry to hold itself to a higher set of standards. I think our political and professional profile, our very future, depends on a higher standard or we truly will eventually be invisible. Let’s hope our leadership continues to makes demands on membership, because the pubic certainly will.
Let’s hope we continue to make demands on ourselves.