ASTA Launches Trusted Advisor Certificationby Richard D'Ambrosio /
The American Society of Travel Agents has launched the ASTA Verified Travel Advisor (VTA) certification program, an effort to build member knowledge about legal and ethical issues and boost consumer trust in ASTA agents.
The nine-course program includes courses like “Ethics for Travel Advisors,” “Legal Overview for the Travel Agency Industry,” “Agency Relationships and the Law,” and “U.S. Travel Agency Regulatory Compliance, 3rd Edition.”
Building consumer trust
ASTA president and CEO Zane Kerby announced the program at the ASTA Global Conference in San Diego. The announcement came a day after travel writer Christopher Elliott discussed the issue of consumer trust, including complaints about unethical travel agents, in a general session.
Kerby said that while agents are held in high regard by the traveling public, having a brand for trusted advisors is critical to growing travel agency usage and sales. “We have a code of ethics. In the past, if you were a bad apple, ASTA would send you letters and try to mitigate an event. We would publicly flog you and put you up on our website. We want to back up from that and give agents a chance to demonstrate proficiency,” he said at a press conference.
“We know that our code of ethics is one of the most important things ASTA membership offers,” Kerby said.
The curriculum includes a deep dive into ASTA’s code of ethics. “We look at them one by one and instruct agents about the way you must approach certain situations,” said ASTA general counsel Peter Lobasso. “People think they have a sense of what the right thing to do is. We flesh it out and provide examples of what they should be doing.”
ASTA will aggressively market the certification program to members and nonmembers and to consumers, Kerby said. Marketing is likely to include videos similar to ASTA’s previous consumer awareness campaigns.
Voicing support for the new program, Matthew D. Upchurch, Virtuoso’s chairman and CEO, noted the importance of agent training and education on complex issues. “Today's travel advisor needs to be knowledgeable on all aspects of the industry, including complex DOT regulations. More importantly, though, is the advisor’s commitment to staying abreast of the many complexities in travel.”
The Verified Travel Advisor course costs $399 for ASTA members, and $598 for nonmembers who are independent advisors, such as home-based agents or ICs. ASTA also has a $729 fee for nonmembers who work for large agencies and hosts. ASTA is in negotiations with consortia and host agencies about a negotiated bulk buy rate.
For nonmembers, the fee includes a one-year ASTA membership. Anyone earning certification will need to renew membership in order to maintain their Verified Travel Advisor status.
ASTA said the majority of the courses take 60 to 90 minutes to complete and consist of a manual, online video and exam. After passing each course exam, advisors will receive a certificate of completion. They will be awarded a Verified Travel Advisor certificate once they have successfully completed all nine courses.
Travel advisors will have 12 months to complete the nine required courses. ASTA is still developing guidelines for maintaining VTA certification.
State travel seller laws
The VTA certification program will help ASTA in its negotiations with states looking to impose travel seller laws, said ASTA senior vice president of government and public affairs, Eben Peck. Widespread certification might reduce the interest by some states in such laws by showing that the industry is policing itself, he said.
The program also might help agents dealing with complaints in states that have travel seller laws. “We’ve had compliance disposition enhanced by agents making a good faith effort to understand their rules,” Peck said.
With more travelers interested in using agents for the first time, the need for an industry standard is heightened, said ASTA director of communications, Erika Richter. “It’s a way of distinguishing our travel advisors.”