Some of you know that I have established a travel consultation business called Soulful Adventures Travel, which specializes in luxury adventure travel that invigorates the mind, body and soul.
OK, that’s my “elevator speech,” and my apologies if that makes you groan a bit from the cliché of it all. But I am passionate about helping people find their ideal vacation or holiday, especially if it involves active adventure. Some people wonder and even outright ask me if travel agents are still relevant, especially when most can simply go to an online travel site and do their own booking.
I recently attended the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) Global Convention in San Diego, and it was three days well spent. Most of the speakers mentioned how the returning value of working with a travel agent, among other valuable information. The need for travel professionals who help consumers with their travel plans, whether it’s in leisure or business, has become greater than ever. The avalanche of online travel deal information hasn’t made travel booking easier. Indeed, it’s only made the process more confusing and overwhelming.
Even if travelers have the savvy and know-how to navigate all of those sites, they often can’t determine the quality of the places they’re staying at or the destinations they’re heading to. More important, if something goes wrong, they nearly always have to resolve the problem on their own. They can’t rely on a travel pro to get them out of it. This is especially frustrating when it comes to a delayed or cancelled flight or missing reservations at a hotel.
Yet there’s one thing that travelers need to keep in mind when they do use a travel advisor or consultant.
Certification programs exist and can ensure that travel agents receive sufficient training, but the industry doesn’t have an official means of accreditation or licensing. As a result, just about anyone can call themselves a travel agent. That’s opened the door to less-than reputable companies taking advantage of people eager to enter the field. These so-called “card mills” don’t offer much training, no certification and leave many who sign up for their programs unprepared for real-world travel advising and booking.
That’s what some of the speakers at the general assemblies mentioned, and that’s the other significant message I took away from the conference. Luckily, professional organizations like ASTA are rapidly cracking down on disreputable companies like these, and they aren’t as common as before.
For travel agents to regain the prominence they once had before the growth of online travel sites, they need to have nearly unimpeachable professionalism and integrity. They need to build the “know, like and trust” factor with potential customers. That means they need to be the public’s educators on the value of having expertise on planning and booking a vacation, which can be accomplished several ways.
First, they can demonstrate the value of a travel professional with good old-fashioned PR. Writing an article or guest blog post, appearing on a radio or TV interview, or being part of a community event can all be ways to convey this message. Pros can mention the ways that today’s agent helps people sort through the noise of travel.
Second, they can ask happy clients for a solid testimonial to use on their websites, promotional materials and anyplace that gives new prospects assurance. In addition, they can request referrals from these same customers when their family members, friends or acquaintances need travel help. Not only does this make self-marketing easier for the agent, it also a brings a sense of trust and approval from the client.
Finally, travel agents simply need to show integrity in everything they do. Sure, all work for consortia that have preferred suppliers that are first priority to sell. But ultimately, they serve their clients and need to find the most suitable and appropriate options for them. That means being honest and accurate in presenting costs and details, as well as making sure they answer all their client’s questions and concerns.