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There are some threats that are so fundamental that they appear to affect the very basis of the travel industry. In this issue’s cover story, “A Brave New World,” we focus on one such topic: the next generation of travel professionals.
As you can read in the story, the current population of travel professionals is rapidly reaching retirement age and there are not enough young people entering — or staying in — the travel industry to replace them. Also, those who are getting into travel are not learning as much as they could from the previous generation, which means there is a significant loss in expertise. As a result, many suppliers are looking at a complete turnover of their sales force in the coming years — and sooner than you might think. Plus, there are major training issues among the agents who do stay in the business.
It’s not difficult to see how this trend could affect all of us. For one thing, at what point do suppliers start looking toward other methods of distribution if they can no longer rely on the existence of travel agents?
I think it’s fair to say that, while we have seen a number of new programs and groups launch recently, the industry has generally been slow to address this problem. Our cover story examines many aspects of this crisis, including the need for traditional travel agencies to think outside the box in order to recruit and retain young agents. For instance, as long as we are considering ways we can change the industry to appeal to the next generation, why not reconsider the job title itself? Many career-seeking young adults have gotten the message that the travel agent profession is a dead-end, yet I have seen an increase in alternate terms that describe a travel agent’s role, including “travel consultant,” “travel planner,” “vacation expert” and even “travel concierge.” Maybe it’s time to retire the term “travel agent” entirely.
That is just one suggestion among many designed to reinvigorate the travel industry. It is clear that a major shift in the industry is needed in order to keep the travel agent profession from disappearing, and that effort needs to start happening now, before it’s too late.