|ASTA CEO Zane Kerby|
Calling travel agents the ultimate advocates for the traveling public, ASTA took aim at the recent "error-ridden" Woman's Day story about travel agents. In a followup to its initial response, ASTA expanded on its defense of travel agents' value to the traveling pubic.
"Uproar over the article presents an opportunity to educate journalists and consumers about travel agents' value," ASTA said in a statement.
In its first response to the magazine, ASTA provided Woman’s Day with a version of the article entitled "8 Reasons Why Booking with a Travel Professional Creates Value," which ASTA said would have better served Woman's Day readership.
In a follow-on statement, ASTA CEO Zane Kerby said further comment from ASTA is required. “The typical travel agent does not have a big marketing budget to tout the great work they do. They rely on reputation, and work exceptionally hard to earn it. The inaccuracies in the Woman's Day.com article are damaging to an industry that provides an invaluable service: helping us all see the world. Many in the press have asked us for further clarification, and this press release is intended to do just that.”
ASTA noted that the story at the heart of the controversy was initially titled "10 Things Travel Agents Won’t Tell You" has since been changed to "9 Things…". A move ASTA said "is in the right direction, but this modification falls short. In fact, 8 of the “9 Things…” still on the list are inaccurate and misleading."
To its credit, ASTA noted, Woman’s Day sent ASTA an immediate response to the letter of concern posted to Woman's Day’s Facebook page and website. “After reading our response, which included the article as they should have written it, Woman's Day’s senior editor reached out to us to work on future stories that will showcase travel agents’ value. Given the opportunity, we plan to make lemonade out of this lemon,” said John Pittman, ASTA vice president of industry & consumer affairs.
In a further effort to educate journalists and consumers about the work travel agents do, Paul Ruden, ASTA’s senior vice president of legal and industry affairs offered the following analysis of the article’s remaining “9 Things” to set the record straight:
Ruden's analysis, keyed to errors in the Women's Day feature, include:
"1. Agents “make major commission…”
ASTA responds: Cruise commissions have been going down, not up. Competition is ferocious and no agent can survive long by giving bad advice to earn a few extra bucks on a sale. Repeat business is critical to a travel agent’s success; customer interests must, and do, come first.
2. Agents “can’t book (or price) all airline carriers.”
ASTA responds: This portion of the article is especially fraught with errors. Any travel agent that still sells air travel (not all do, just like not all retailers sell every brand of anything) can sell any airline’s services, including Southwest. This can be done as a stand-alone ticket for air travel or as a package with multiple components. Comparing packages, when to buy with miles, etc., are often so complex that the advice of an agent can be invaluable. Hence ASTA’s trademark slogan “Without a Travel Agent, you’re on your own,” is spot on. Most agents have access to pricing and content that the general public does not.
3. Agents “may not have been to the hotel or on the cruise ship they’re recommending.”
ASTA responds: When the writer asks a retailer of some other product for advice about options, does she really believe every retailer has personally used every product they sell? Consumers have many, many options and access to online tools offering unparalleled transparency. If a travel agent were to lie about cruise or hotel amenities, they would quickly be out of the industry. No one in a competitive market, and agents are in one of the most competitive markets in the world, can (or would) do what the writer suggests and get away with it. All ASTA members pledge to conduct their business activities in a manner that promotes the ideal of integrity in travel, agreeing to act in accordance with the ASTA Code of Ethics (www.ASTA.org)
4. “Be flexible with travel dates and airports.”
ASTA responds: The article states that “Being open about when you fly and where you fly into can slash your trip costs. But your savings mean less commission for some travel agents, so they may not suggest being flexible.” This is completely inaccurate. Exactly what is the source on which these claims are based? Since base commissions were abolished more than a decade ago (news!), agents generally charge straightforward fees for booking air tickets and have a legal and practical responsibility to protect their clients’ interests even above their own.
5. “Travel insurance may not be necessary.”
ASTA responds: Health insurance may not be “necessary” either, until you get sick. Agents recommend insurance to help protect the considerable investment that consumers make in committing to travel plans, especially where a complex vacation experience is at stake. Things can go wrong and neither the consumer, agent or travel vendor can prevent them. So insurance often makes sense and in many cases it avoids huge losses for the consumer. Railing at agents about recommending travel insurance is just plain silly.
6. Agents are “…best for milestone trips.”
ASTA responds: We agree; there is no question that agents deliver huge value for consumers planning key trips – weddings, vacations, etc. Yet a travel professional can also add value to a weekend getaway.
7. “Online travel sites offer refunds and cancellation policies.”
ASTA responds: Travel agents of all kinds provide refunds in keeping with travel vendor policies and government regulations. This is at best a neutral in the choice between online and offline buying. The fact that refunds may be available through online sites doesn’t mean anything about traditional agents. The choice of channel simply should be based on other considerations if both are equal on refunds.
8. “A travel agent won’t necessarily find the best price.”
ASTA responds: Finding the “best price” is not the same as finding the “best value.” What a good travel agent will do is find the price and service combination that best meets the traveler’s needs and wants. If it’s only about price, everyone would just eat fast food, regardless of health concerns. This is silly.
9. “Sign up (and use) a travel rewards card.”
ASTA responds: The article states that “A lot of people sign up for every reward program under the sun, and 80% never get anything.” This quote says it all. As for how agents make their money, we advise against making sweeping statements with no tangible evidence. Agents make their money in different ways. They are a diverse group, many with specialties and niche expertise that delivers very high value to their clients who reward the agents accordingly.
One thing is irrefutable: we all need to see the world. And travel agents get you there, and get you home. More and more research confirms what any traveler and travel professional knows: travel is good for the spirit, and good for the world. ASTA knows something about this, too. For more than 80 years ASTA’s role has been to facilitate the business of travel in a vibrant global marketplace that is rewarding for global travel agents, travel suppliers and the traveling public."
ASTA concluded its statement with a quote from Mark Twain: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.”