This summer is going to be a challenging one for the travel industry. High prices, among other factors, have made middle-class families more cautious about how they spend, and with airfares escalating, even upper-income travelers are looking for bargains.
On the positive side for travel agents, however, is the fact that their know-how will be in even greater demand. Just the other day, a traveler in her mid-20s asked me if I thought she should use a travel agent for the first time because she no longer thinks the Internet can get her the best value for the dollar. Seizing on this window of opportunity, where those who are still able and willing to travel will be looking for creative solutions, will be crucial to the success of all agents. The sooner you can find your niche in this environment, the better your odds of weathering the storm.
Part of this success will also come from travel agents as a whole proving their competence and professionalism to the public. With so many clients, especially first-timers, turning to agents for advice, it behooves all of us to show the world a new breed of travel consultant is up to the challenge. These new agents — masters of cyberspace, hardened by the chaos of a post-Sept. 11 world, entrepreneurs that are at once creative and calculating — must be ready to demonstrate that it is in the traveler’s best interest to have an expert in their corner when times are tough.
As you’ll read in this issue’s cover story, Card Mill Confidential, there’s no room in this economic situation for imposters. If card mills are allowed to create an army of inexperienced, uneducated scammers who call themselves travel agents, it will only hurt the reputation of true consultants in a time when gaining the consumers’ trust is especially crucial. The travel industry as a whole — but agents in particular, since this really is an issue that is much less gray to the agents than the suppliers — needs to come together once and for all to set standards for what it means to be a travel professional.
The new breed of travel consultant is not worried about setting these high standards; he or she welcomes it. After all, fewer pretenders just means more business for the hard-working, enterprising professional.
I hope this issue’s cover story will help spur the debate over setting industrywide standards. If not, the slow slide to mediocrity will make this a long summer indeed.