The Outside Sales Support Network (OSSN), with 7,800 plus members and a highly regarded association, came under fire from Peter Stilphen, president of host agency Coral Sands Travel, who questioned OSSN’s TRUE identification card, which was promptly defended by OSSN president and founder Gary Fee.
OSSN, Stilphen wrote in his recent online newsletter, “has provided over the years, excellent services to the individual travel agent in the form of education, seminars, networking and resource material in addition to sponsoring two of the largest travel agent trade shows of the year. Why has OSSN apparently decided to support the travel industry's worst nightmare, the MLM (multi level marketing)/card mills as well as offering its own version of a photo ID card?" he asks. “Is it all about bringing in new members to the organization or trying to advance their own photo ID card with the TRUE number? Based on my attendance at one of OSSN's seminars recently it appears to be all about promoting and selling the photo ID card first.” Stilphen claims that OSSN runs TRUE as a for-profit corporation while other cards are nonprofit.
OSSN’s Fee reacted sharply to the charges and said that OSSN has repeatedly contacted Stilphen to correct incorrect and misleading information in the effort to discredit OSSN and the TRUE Identification program. “The TRUE program was established to identify agencies for the purpose of recognition by suppliers for commission remuneration to agencies operating with a TRUE Code,” Fee said. There are about 2,200 TRUE card agency users.
“Contrary to his recent comments, OSSN does not support the MLM business model and does not have any MLM agencies within our membership base," Fee said. "Our 'Membership Agreement and Statement of Liability' is clear on this policy. We and our legal counsel have contacted Mr. Stilphen numerous times with the reconfirmation on this fact and he elects to ignore this proven information.
“The TRUE coding system was not established to provide travel industry discounts," Fee continued. "The TRUE program has been widely recognized by suppliers including cruise lines, tour operators, and major hotel and car rental companies, as well. All agencies with a TRUE Code receive a TRUE CERTIFICATE, just as CLIA ID holders receive a certificate.”
Stilphen charged that: “It is worth noting that the other photo ID cards, namely IATAN and CLIA, come under nonprofit entities with profits going back into training and education. As to OSSN and TRUE's profits, one can only speculate where the profits are going. I can say that most all for-profit companies serve their owners first and not their membership or clients.” Both the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) and the International Air Transport Association’s IATAN unit offer ID cards.
OSSN countered, saying "Mr. Stilphen questions OSSN’s decision to run OSSN as a 'for profit' corporation. Apparently, he believes that a different corporate filing structure such as a 'nonprofit' makes a better business model. There may be certain tax advantages for a nonprofit company, but what really makes a good company is the people running it. OSSN has an executive team that always has the best interest of our entire membership at the foremost of our goals. One would be hard pressed to find OSSN members who do not feel they get a great value in service and benefits for their membership price.”
“We, indeed, feel certain that we will always go above and beyond in fulfilling those needs of OSSN members,” Fee said. “The communication between OSSN members and our executive team, including over 78 chapter directors across the U.S., four OSSN regional managers, in addition to a great marketing and advertising staff, web masters, show management team, news editor and our TRUE Administrator is what keeps OSSN at the forefront as an association set out to satisfy an important group of travel professionals- our members!”
Stilphen, a persistent critic of multilevel marketing programs and card mills including Joystar/Travelstar (now in bankruptcy) and YTB International (who recently signed a settlement with the California state Attorney General), argued that any group offering ID cards to agents must put the agents' interest first. Both Fee and Stilphen have reputations as travel agent champions and advocates.
“I know I'm going to be asked, 'Why are you picking on OSSN?'" Stilphen said. "My response is that any organization working with travel agents should have their interests foremost and not provide an easier method to obtain a photo ID card. The recent actions by OSSN are not one of support for the professional travel agent. I believe OSSN should return to its grass roots as a travel agent training and networking organization and abandon their photo ID card as NACTA did. They should also explain their position with MLM's.”
The National Association of Career Travel Agents (NACTA) dropped its ID card earlier this year.
“OSSN was also the recipient of thousands of advertising dollars from the collapsed host agency Joystar while it was a member of OSSN," Stilphen said. "To be fair to OSSN ,there were many media publications who touted Joystar and also received huge monies for advertising. Joystar was also an MLM under its parent name of TravelStar. I would like to mention that these organizations and media folk also stood by and did nothing while Joystar and many suppliers raped the travel agents of their commissions and booking transfers.
“The TRUE coding system, until recently, was maintained by IATAN," Stilphen continued. "TRUE now maintains it own code system and has set up its own, 'check-a-code' website. A commercial operation, TRUE is allegedly now in competition with IATAN and CLIA, both nonprofit organizations as mentioned earlier. All of these leads one to ask, 'Is OSSN presently or becoming another card mill utilizing a new approach?'"
Again, OSSN’s Fee reacted sharply to the charges. “Mr. Stilphen’s leading comments which try to compare OSSN with a card mill is truly a last straw attempt to discredit OSSN," he said. "With over 7,800 travel agent members and 78 active chapters across the U.S., OSSN’s goal to continue to provide ongoing tools, educational opportunities, greater recognition by suppliers, and training to professional travel agents will move forward with the same deliberate pace we have kept for 20 years!
“OSSN is excited to be preparing for our 20th year anniversary as a major association in 2010," Fee said. " It is our professional members that have validated our excellent worth as an organization, which continues to meet their professional needs. This has always been our goal and we look forward to meeting these challenges and achieving even greater goals as a major trade association in the years ahead!’ Fee wrote.
Visit www.OSSN.com or www.americashostagency.com or email Stilphen at [email protected].