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For the last two-and-a-half years, the leaders behind the Family Travel Association (FTA) have been building — from scratch — a community dedicated to the family travel industry. They’ve recruited family-focused suppliers and media, conducted research, advocated on behalf of family travelers, attended consumer events, put out newsletters, created content — including guest columns in Family Getaways — and held two annual summits. And now, the FTA is focusing its attention on one group in particular.
“Travel agents are a very important resource play in the industry,” said Peter Bopp, director of strategy for the FTA. “We would like to build a community of individuals who are committed to our mission and who want to help one another. Our overall mission is building the family travel agent community — with all the players in it.”
In a step toward growing its agent member base — which is currently about 20 family advisors — the FTA held its first-ever travel agent fam trip at Averill’s Flathead Lake Lodge in Bigfork, Mont. In addition to exploring the property and the surroundings, the 13 agents on the FTA’s Travel Agent Council fam trip took part in two meetings led by Bopp and Rainer Jenss, president and founder of the FTA.
“We want to get as many travel agents as we can, but it’s not a mass thing,” Jenss said. “It’s about quality. You’re only as good as your members are.”
During the event, agents discussed challenges to consumers and challenges to agents as well as the member resources and benefits they would like from the FTA. The association plans to provide agents with professional development; market research; a directory of business development managers at family-friendly supplier members; a library of content for agents, by agents; and networking platforms that can connect like-minded agents with one another and with suppliers. Agents also expressed interest in the creation of special incentives and bonus commissions from FTA suppliers; family-travel focused fams for agent members; good quality social media; and introductions to family travel media. Some agents are looking for qualified leads, while others are not.
Hot topics also included how the FTA can help grow interest and knowledge by consumers to use agents, in addition to how to best accredit agents as FTA members. The association plans to create a travel agent finder that can offer leads to agents.
“When we recommend agents, our reputation will be on display,” Jenss said.
Participating travel agents represented a diversity of business models, sales volumes and niches within the family travel. They included Jessica Griscavage of McCabe World Travel; Lauren Goldenberg of The Family Traveler; Michele Harkins of Dream Vacations; Patricia Monahan of Our Whole Village; Angela Pierson of Wallace Pierson Travel; Yannette Edwards of Valerie Wilson Travel; Nancy Damianeas of Hermes Travel; Julia Slatcher of Inspire World Travel; Laura Lazicki of Guru Travel; Kim Milnes of Family Travel Boutique; Katherine Shirer of Ciao Bambino; Cari Gray of Gray and Company; and Sally Black of Vacation Kids.
“My big takeaway has been confirmed even further: [Family travel sellers] are a very diverse group,” Jenss said. “We have to be careful not to lump everything in a neat package. We have to realize that within our specialization, there are specialists. Family travel is different things. For us to not acknowledge that would be unfair and difficult. We want to help our agents help families, and we want to grow your business.”
And while the FTA still needs to put the final touches on its agent program — as well as unveil a consumer media partnership that should benefit agents — attending agents did leave with clarity on the FTA’s intentions for agents.
“Before, I thought FTA’s goal was to educate consumers to travel on their own, which might have been why it didn’t have as many agent members,” said The Family Traveler’s Goldenberg. “But I’m glad to see that FTA is taking on this mission and understands that agents play a great role in this industry. There’s room for it all — for those who want to book on their own and for those who want qualified agents.”