Travel Agent? Travel Advisor? Travel Consultant? What's the difference? It's not just the terminology that is changing. The name implies a certain level of support you receive (or not) when you engage a travel professional. For years, a Travel Agent was someone you would call when you wanted to book a cruise, hotel room or flight because they were the only ones with access to the tools to do so. A more accurate name would have been Booking Agent. These agents typically made their money through commissions earned on the sale paid by the suppliers (airlines, hotels, etc.) Then came the online travel agents (OTAs) – you know, Expedia, Priceline, Booking.com (did you even realize that they were called “online travel agents”?) But, in the traditional sense of the term, that is what they are because they allow YOU to do the booking. They also earn commissions on the sales they generate, just like their old human counterparts.
Now, after 15 or so years of EVERYONE having access to the booking tools, people are starting to realize that “booking travel” isn’t really just “booking”. It takes a lot of time and effort to research destinations, tours, lodging, airfare, activities, etc. A LOT of time and effort! No matter how they end up booking a trip, consumers are spending more time visiting websites to plan their getaways – 38, on average – according to a 2015 Traveler Attribution Study conducted by Expedia Media Solutions. And even then they don’t know if the are looking in the right place, or finding the best value for their money.
Many people have come to the conclusion that they don’t have the time or the expertise to wade through all of the information and to be sure they are making the best choices for spending their hard-earned travel dollars. They want professional assistance, and are willing to pay for it. The ASTA (American Society of Travel Advisors), the leading global advocate for travel advisors, the travel industry and the travelling public, recently changed their name from Agents to Advisors to reflect these changes in the way people purchase travel.
Unfortunately, the travel industry does not require certifications to call yourself a Travel Advisor. There are some “travel advisors” whose business is not travel at all, but building a multi-level marketing (MLM) organization by recruiting other people to sell travel. There are also travel advisors who are actually running a travel agency, but who have no formal training.
There are many programs for people who are interested in becoming travel advisors. Some are better than others. I encourage you to ask any advisors with whom you are thinking of doing business what kind of industry experience and education they have. You will be entrusting this person to help you make decisions on how to spend what could amount to thousands of dollars, (and in most instances, trusting them with your credit card information) so they are good questions to ask.
You can also look for those who have earned Certified Travel Associate (CTA) certification. This certification shows additional education and commitment to professionalism as determined by The Travel Institute, which has represented the highest standard for education within the retail travel industry since 1964.
As for me, I am a Vacation Design Consultant. I have had the title of “consultant” for most of my professional life, and I find that my travel career is no different. I completed the Travel Leaders of Tomorrow Training program through Travel Leaders Group, and recently earned my CTA. I offer high touch, high service to all of my clients, and I am always available to work on their behalf should they encounter issues while traveling. My favorite thing is designing the perfect trip for my clients to their dream destinations. I relish the opportunity to design a unique itinerary that will enable them to learn about the destination while they are there, and to experience it in ways that are different from the mass market.
Knowledge, experience, individualized attention, trip support and follow-up. I am the next level Travel Advisor. I am proud to be a Travel Consultant.