It was gratifying to see President Obama give the travel industry some recognition for its importance to the U.S. economy in a speech that he made last month. A welcome by-product of the speech seems to be that the mainstream media is taking a closer look at the role of travel agents. Also last month, we saw pro-agent articles from Forbes and CNN as well as interviews with industry leaders on the “Today” show, among others. (For links to these articles, visit the TravelAge West Facebook page at Facebook.com/TravelAgeWest.)
The timing couldn’t be better then for the ground-breaking new consumer-awareness initiative that was on view at the Los Angeles Times Travel Show at the end of last month in L.A. The campaign, called “101 Reasons to Use a Travel Agent,” is a grassroots effort by the Southern California chapter of ASTA (SoCal ASTA). Chapter president Jason Coleman began the project by hosting consumer focus groups in order to better understand what consumers think about agents. The chapter then began making a series of videos using real-life agents designed to dispel consumers’ misconceptions. The initial videos — about 10 are completed — can be viewed at SoCalTravelAgents.com. New videos will premiere throughout the year.
The videos use a diverse group of agents — young and old, male and female, from different ethnic backgrounds — to talk about the benefits of using an agent. For example, in “Reason #84: Travel agents are creative itinerary designers,” a group of agents share some of the unusual experiences they have arranged for their customers — such as the opportunity to feed alligators in a Louisiana swamp — and discuss how these kinds of requests are the challenges that make their jobs more fun.
“If you can dream it, we can make it happen,” agent Donna Coleman said in the video.
This initiative just happens to coincide perfectly with the recent travel agent buzz in the media, and it shows what a small group of dedicated people can do when they take it upon themselves to improve things for everyone.