Today's home-based independent travel agent has a great range of resources upon which he or she can draw to build a successful business. In fact, there are so many resources that independent agents face a clear-cut need to sort out which resources are most immediately relevant to their needs.
Host agencies are the primary resources for independent agents, but the 20 associations described here also offer valuable tools. Several provide professional certification and identification cards, as well as fam trips, local chapters and networking. Many offer some type of education and training program.
Other associations are invaluable as information resources, especially for agents serving niche or specialized market segments. Some resources are free, but membership is required for many, with costs that can quickly add up.
Agents should check with their host agency to see what groups the host belongs to and what access the agent has to the source. In many cases, an independent membership may prove useful to agents or to their clients.
Many suppliers have affiliate programs for home-based agents that provide many of the same incentives as the host agencies (fam trips, discounts, education and training programs, etc.). Also noteworthy is the information and training programs of consortia available through the host agency member.
National tourist offices also have destination specialist programs that encourage independent home-based agent participation. In the U.S., individual states have travel associations, as do some destinations such as Las Vegas. The diversity and range of interests and markets served by the independent agent community is significant.
Agents should understand all the resources available to them from their hosts, from booking procedures to technical and marketing support. Likewise, they should also know their host's policies and programs and be aware of any potential conflicts.
Today's home-based travel agent—hosted or independent, full or part time—is part of a nowledge-based, information-intensive industry. A home-based agent's knowledge and access to information resources is vital not only for superior client services, but for professional success as well.
Many of the associations described here—in rough order of their immediate relevance to most independent agents—have online resources, including qualifications for membership. Agents can also sign up for alerts to update them on programs. Most associations, though not all, have membership categories that include independent agents.
CLIA: The Cruise Lines International Association (www.cruising.org) is one of the most important associations for home-based independent agents and a key to the fast-growing cruise industry. CLIA has 16,000 members, including a new-agent membership category. It offers outstanding education and training programs year-round. CLIA's identification card is also a basic credential for home-based agents. CLIA membership is virtually indispensable for recognition from the cruise lines and access to perks. CLIA's professional Cruise Counsellor Certification program can lead to the Accredited Cruise Counsellor (ACC), Master Cruise Counsellor (MCC) or Elite Cruise Counsellor (ECC) designations. CLIA has an excellent annual conference and offers widely accessible training.
IATA: The International Air Transport Association (www.iata.org) is a trade organization—and a powerful one—representing 240-plus international airlines. While home-based agents are not members of IATA, a unit of IATA known as International Airlines Travel Agent Network (www.iatan.org), or IATAN, manages the IATAN Identification Card program. The IATAN card is coveted by travel agents of all types as the key professional credential, and is the gold standard of professional recognition. It can open the door to industry perks, including free nights and discounts for hotels and resorts, airlines, cruise lines and more. IATAN also offers a Travel Sales Intermediary (TSI) program for home-based agents.
OSSN: The Outside Sales Support Network (www.ossn.com) encourages di-rect agent membership and is one of the most important and best known groups serving home-based independent agents. With 60 chapters and 5,800 members, OSSN offers a diversity of quality pro-grams for agents including its TRUE (Travel Retailer Universal Enumeration) program for professional identification. OSSN also offers extensive education and training and business services. Founded by Gary Fee, OSSN has grown rapidly and plays a vital role in helping nurture home-based agents' success.
NACTA: The National Association of Commissioned Travel Agents (www.nacta.com) provides home-based independent agents with a wide range of education and training programs as well as chapters for networking. NACTA is managed by Scott Koepf, a veteran agent and champion of home-based agents, and has 3,000 members and 30 chapters. NACTA encourages direct membership and has fam trips and seminars at sea among an array of programs supporting home-based agents. It is affiliated with the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) and also manages the Travelsellers.com identification program.
ASTA: The American Society of Travel Agents (www.asta.org) is critically important to the travel agency industry. With 20,000 members, ASTA is perhaps the most representative travel agent organization and includes international membership. ASTA also has NACTA as an affiliated organization and bears directly on home-based agents. ASTA is a membership organization with both agency and supplier members. It has a code of ethics and represents travel agents before Congress. ASTA has an excellent staff and outstanding elected volunteer travel agent leaders and a network of chapters.
ARTA: The Association of Retail Travel Agents (www.artaonline.com) is a trade association that is focused on travel retailers including independent agents. While smaller than ASTA, ARTA has been a tough-minded pro-agent advocate. ARTA has chapters and other resources that support independent agents. Like many associations, ARTA has a code of professional ethics. It also has been an advocate of a new identification card system for travel agents that is based on productivity. Like ASTA, ARTA is led by volunteer travel agents.
PATH: The Professional Association of Travel Hosts was formed in 2007 and represents more than 24 host agencies. The roster of host members is expected to increase along with industry supplier members. Home-based agents should be alert to what PATH offers. PATH policies can be expected to influence all host agency programs—members or not. PATH's stress on ethics and conduct is also significant for every home-based agent. For information, contact [email protected]
TI: The Travel Institute ( www.thetravelinstitute.com) offers extensive and rigorous training, including programs designed for independent home-based agents. Its Certified Travel Counselors (CTC) designation is the gold standard for professional certification of travel agents. While fundamentally an educational organization, home-based agents should be aware of the Institute's many programs. This includes its destination specialist, niche market and Certified Travel Associate (CTA) programs. New is the Certified Travel Industry Executive (CTIE) designation. Home-based agents who want to build credibility with clients and brand themselves as professionals should explore the Home-based Agent and Entry Level programs and resources.
NTA: The National Tour Association (www.ntaonline.com) wants to attract more travel agents to its ranks, including home-based agents who are focused on marketing group tour programs. With more than 600 tour-operator members, the NTA is an industry powerhouse that encompasses U.S. and Canadian industry suppliers. NTA offers enormous resources for tour-selling professionals, including professional certification as a Certified Tour Professional, or CTP. Tour-operator volunteers lead the NTA.
USTOA: The United States Tour Operators Association (www.ustoa.com) is an influential group of the world's major tour operators. Its importance to home-based agents lies in its USTOA Consumer Protection program and code of ethics. Home-based agents can check out member tour operators and their tour programs and costs. USTOA also offers informational resources online to support travel agents' tour sales. Expertise in tour sales is growing in importance as a complement to cruise sales.
Many other associations offer support for independent agents or are major sources of information on segments of the travel industry. These include major umbrella groups, such as the Travel Industry Association of America (TIA) (www.tia.org) or specialized associations such as Travel Professionals of Color (TPOC) (www.tpoc.org). The American Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA) (www.ahla.com) is also an influential voice.
STAA: The Specialty Travel Agents Association (www.specialtytravelagents.com) was formed in 2007 to promote professional agents to consumers. STAA encourages independent-agent member-ship and offers resources and training.
SATH: The Society for Accessible Travel and Hospitality (www.sath.org) is an established association offering agents support for handling disabled/handicapped travel. Many resources and links are provided along with training programs.
NCMA: The Niche Cruise Marketing Alliance (www.nichecruise.com) wants to build awareness of the importance of niche cruise marketing opportunities and actively seeks home-based agent membership. NCMA also offers a new professional certification program.
ATA: Air Transportation Association ( www.airlines.org) is useful as a resource on airline policies, programs and legislative activities.
ABA: The American Bus Association (www.buses.org) is of interest to agents who deal with charters and group travel.
SYTA: The Student Youth Travel Association (www.syta.org) offers programs for agents involved in the marketing of packaged student and youth travel.
PATA: The Pacific Asia Travel Association (www.pata.org) provides extensive resources for agents who serve the fast-growing inbound or outbound travel market in Asia and the Pacific region.
WRTA: The Religious Travel Association (www.religioustravelassociation.com) is focused on the $18 billion religious travel market.
NBTA: The National Business Travel Association (www.nbta.org) provides resources focused on the corporate/business travel market. For more than 35 years, the association has dedicated itself to the professional development of its members and the advancement of the business travel management community through advocacy, education and training, and networking opportunities.