On YTB: You Can't Make This Stuff Up

After several productive days at Virtuoso’s annual TravelMart in Las Vegas a few weeks ago I was headed home. Feeling chipper, I got in a cab at The Bellagio and immediately started chatting with the driver. When he heard I'd been at a conference for travel agents he brightened up.

"I have a friend who’s sort of in that business," he said.

"Sort of in that business. Uh oh," I thought, super sensitive to the fact that I'd just spent nearly a week with some of the most professional travel agents in the industry.

"Yeah, he's with one of those companies where you sign and get discounts on travel and you get your own website."

"Are you supposed to get others to sign up, too?" I asked.

"Yes, that's even better than selling travel!" he said. “My friend is always trying to get me to sign up. I tell him when he starts making money on it to let me know. So far he hasn’t. I can't think of the name of it...it's the big one.."

When I uttered the letters, "Y T B," he yelled, "That's it!”

I mentioned that YTB was currently having some trouble, that the California attorney general was accusing the company of being a pyramid scheme.

"Oh, I know,” said the driver. “My friend is always signing up with these get-rich-fast companies. The problem is he's the only one working at home so he needs to make money."

And so a life of free travel becomes the American dream, where a cab driver who's also the father of two with a wife who doesn't work hopes this latest scheme will be "the one" where he finally rises above holding down two jobs just to make ends meet. Who can blame him, really?

The truth is, to become a truly successful travel agent you have to put in the time in. At Virtuoso’s TravelMart, 1,344 travel agents from 393 agencies met with more than 1,500 preferred suppliers who had flown in from all over the world to meet with them for an entire week. This was more than a casual networking confab; suppliers moved from table to table in four-minute intervals, giving agents in attendance a boiled-down spiel on their properties. Meetings at TravelMart this year started at 5:30 in the morning because the day was so filled with appointments. Days ended around 11 p.m.

That’s just one example of how a professional group of agents does it. Signature, Ensemble, American Express and Vacation.com and countless other organizations have annual meetings that are 90 percent work and just 10 percent play. These meetings are typically the icing on the cake that follows a year of training sessions and other types of professional engagement provided by the consortia.

When I reached McCarren Airport, I asked my cabdriver if his friend had at least benefited from any free travel as a result of his membership with YTB. He said he had gotten a free night at one of the top Las Vegas resorts but that he hadn’t received any trips that gotten him out of town yet.

“He’s still driving his cab,” he told me.

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