Over the past few weeks, our industry has seen and heard a number of comments in regard to travel agents being extinct. Many industry leaders have sounded off with the typical response, enforcing numbers and calling that ridiculous. And I applaud them for that. But I am going to take a different approach: Perception is reality. If the President of the United States and 30 Rock pronounce travel agents dead, then you are. If Nightline has to do an investigative report on our business, then we are in trouble. Now we all know you’re not dead, but the majority of your potential customers may think so.
I would ask myself, “Why?” I can tell you. The travel agency community, for the most part, has abandoned Main Street. Twenty years ago, you couldn’t drive into a town without seeing a travel agency storefront with sun-washed photos of cruise ships and Sandals pop-ups. So it’s out of sight, out of mind. As agents retreated to corporate parks and home-based operations, we lost our billboards to the American population. (By the way, the Nightline report featured Liberty Travel, which attracts a tremendous amount of walk-in business—and they do swap out the sun-washed promos which attract that type of business.)
Now that I have identified the problem, the question is, how do we fix it? My suggestion is simple. Remember that organization called ASTA? The one that most of you have chosen not to support as your consortia have taken over a lot of the benefits that you need from a trade organization. Well, if ASTA were to promise a national travel agent media and public relations campaign, I am sure you would start paying dues again. And I mean a real campaign that runs into millions of dollars. I know I would support it, as I don’t want perception to be reality either—if you’re not around, neither am I.
A good example of an effective campaign is CLIA’s National Cruise Vacation Month. They do an amazing job with timely promotions to the American public during that time, resulting in millions of dollars of incremental business and, more importantly, lots of press coverage trumpeting the unique experience of cruising.
So contact your ASTA representative and express the need for a national campaign, or go buy yourself an “I am a Travel Agent” bumper sticker and make sure that the American people know you are alive and well and can book travel better than any computer can.