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PATH Breaks New Ground

September 25, 2008 By: George Dooley Travel Agent
 


While sales, cash flow, commissions and client services are the
justifiable focus of home-based agents and host agencies, the future of
both may depend on how questions of professional ethics and standards
are answered. This holds true especially in the face of the
proliferating multilevel marketing schemes and card mills that continue
to challenge the industry.

One
promising solution comes from the 18 members of the Professional
Association of Travel Hosts
(PATH). Led by Andi McClure-Mysza,
president of MTravel.com, and a dedicated slate of elected officers,
PATH is addressing the hard issues of ethics, standards and
professionalism head on.

Formed in 2006, PATH members represent many
of the larger, long-established host agencies. This includes PATH
members who pioneered innovative programs that bring integrity to the
host agency/home-based agent relationship.

Together, PATH member hosts account for about 8,000 agents with substantial aggregate marketing power.

“The
industry is changing rapidly, especially for host agencies and
home-based agents,” says Anita Pagliasso, PATH’s first vice president
and president of Ticket2Travel. “PATH was formed to help deal with real
issues impacting hosts, agents and suppliers.” Among these key issues,
Pagliasso believes, is a clear-cut need for professional standards.
Standards define the professional relationship between hosts, agents,
suppliers and ultimately the traveling public. And as the only
host-driven organization in the travel industry, PATH has clout.

There
are many other hot-button issues, including commission policies,
contracts, support, training, services and mutual obligations between
the agent and host. PATH also addresses the key issue of professional
obligations to business partners, suppliers and clients.

Ken
Gagliano
, president of Travel Professionals International (TPI), also
sees PATH performing a vital service to the industry. TPI, as an
example, is celebrating its 20th year as a host with more than 1,000
agents. “Like any established host agency, we have a vested interest in
our service quality, the integrity of our product and our agents,” says
Gagliano.

Anthony Gagliano, Sr., TPI’s founder, serves on PATH’s
board as Treasurer while Ken Gagliano serves on Vacation.com’s advisory
board. TPI is up-front about its support of PATH and its commitment to
maintaining the integrity of the professional travel agent distribution
system.
Pam Miller, president of Magellan360 and PATH’s second vice
president, is another PATH advocate. Miller sees major host agencies
making substantial ongoing investments in marketing and technology, as
well as education and support programs for member agents. Like
Pagliasso and Gagliano, Miller sees tremendous growth opportunity
for the home-based sector and for host agencies. But the growth must be
based on a strong commitment to professionalism, standards of
performance and integrity.

Tough Standards

While all PATH
members are competitors, they agree that PATH’s mission is to
continually demonstrate to the travel industry community and home-based
agents the value of PATH’s reputable host agency members. This was
underscored at a recent board meeting (all PATH leaders are volunteers)
in which PATH agreed to limit membership to host agencies. The supplier
membership category will be changed to that of Supplier Partners.
Independent home-based agents cannot be PATH members.

PATH also
wants to attract other host agencies. McClure-Mysza believes that PATH
offers great networking opportunities for host managers. She also sees
that PATH membership will offer increased visibility for the hosts.
This, in turn, will aid in recruiting and add credibility to
well-managed hosts. It will also create a voice among hosts to leverage
the value of PATH among suppliers.

PATH’s tough standards remain in
place, including the requirement that PATH members separate their host
agency operation from their retail travel sales of unrelated products,
physically or by name. They must also provide support to affiliates in
the areas of training, marketing and technology, either “in-house” or
via third-party suppliers or consortia.

Especially important as an
antidote to card-mill operations, the PATH member does not promote
travel agent discounts and perks other than a listing of the agency’s
benefits. Nor does it engage in multilevel marketing programs. PATH
also has excellent relations with suppliers, and can help them reach
home-based agents. Both NACTA and OSSN are PATH partners.

Still
another welcome standard is that the PATH host does not recruit
referral agents as part of a program to reward or encourage referral
agents to recruit other agents. A one-time payment as a referral fee is
excluded from this criteria, and a host’s primary income must be from
the sale of travel. Under PATH’s guidelines, the host agency
compensation models include commission splits, flat fees and/or
invoice/transaction fees.

PATH encourages hosts and agents to review
PATH’s website at www.path4hosts.com. The site offers both meaningful
guidelines and policies that define a high-integrity host. It also
helps define the core of a professional relationship between host and
agent.

“There has been a proliferation of different host agency
models emerging in the industry,” says Pagliasso. “It really does not
matter if you are ARC or non-ARC or have 50 to 2,000 independent
contractors. It’s become apparent that we all have common issues and
challenges. PATH’s goal is to define these and address them or solve
them for the benefit of all our members.”

Is there a bottom line
for home-based agents? Clearly, yes. No sensible agent—whether
experienced or new to the business—wants to invest time and talent in a
host agency that can’t or won’t support them or their aspirations. By
defining the proper relationship between agents, hosts, suppliers and
consumers, PATH is making a major contribution to the fastest-growing
segment of the retail distribution system.

For membership information, visit www.path4hosts.com or e-mail [email protected]


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