Agents Say IATAN Card Is Obsolete

by Cheryl Rosen

The IATAN card just ain’t what it used to be.

Perhaps it’s just anger at recent changes in IATAN's recertification process. But travel agents are saying they question whether it’s still worth paying for an IATAN card. The card was once considered important certification of an agent’s expertise and an insider’s pass to fam trips and supplier discounts.

“My feeling is IATAN is becoming obsolete,” one travel agent posted on the Travel Market Report website.

“As airlines have cut substantially or eliminated any value or benefits of being an agent, the card has no value. . . . So who really needs an IATAN card overall?”

‘They have no right’
Said another reader: “Many of us old, seasoned agents have begun to think of IATAN as nothing but a ‘fraternity’ or club that exists to meddle in your personal business.

“I no longer belong to IATA and have access to all the major suppliers. Unless they plan on investing a few million into my business, they have no right to see or know any of my finances either.”

So Travel Market Report went out and asked a few industry players just what they think.

First we called an individual named on the IATAN website as a member of its Advisory Board. He said he was unaware that he was listed as a board member.

Then we spoke with a longtime industry insider who said, speaking off the record, “There’s no value whatsoever to an IATAN card. ARC certification is far more valuable.”

Asked to comment, a spokesman for IATAN said: “There are currently more than 18,500 IATAN-accredited locations, which speaks to the value attached to the program.”

Perry Flint, IATA’s head of corporate communications for the Americas, cited other benefits for agents of accreditation, including supplier recognition and training. (See sidebar.) IATAN, which stands for International Airlines Travel Agent Network, is a nonprofit department of IATA.

New agent perspective
Travel consultant Justine Sjurseth of Travel Leaders in Brookings, S. D., has been a travel agent for just three years. She said that when she first got her IATAN card, “I felt like, ‘I’m a real agent now.’

But since her agency applied for the IATAN card on her behalf, she’s used it “maybe five or six times in three years” -- once for a fam tour and a few times to get the agent rate at a hotel. Twice she took tours through Funjet, which did not ask for the card.

“I don’t really know what IATAN does,” Sjurseth said. “Maybe there are more benefits. I don’t know that they have done a great job of letting agents know how to use the card. I feel like other agents in our office maybe use it more.”

Of questionable value
Longtime travel agent Jani Miller, CTC, president and CEO of Central Travel in Toledo, Ohio, said she uses her card just once or twice or year. “A handful of suppliers may request it for a fam trip, but it’s very rare.

“We’re an established travel agency and our preferred suppliers know us. From the travel agency perspective, I just don’t see the value,” said Miller, who has been a travel agent since 1977.

The paperwork involved in obtaining IATAN certification is extremely frustrating, she added. When she bought her agency 18 years ago, Miller said, “it took me like six months to get everything in order for IATAN, and I had to fill out mountains of paperwork.

“It was like dealing with the IRS – them losing documents and making us fill out forms again; it was ridiculous. I guess ‘cumbersome’ would be the best term. And the value is questionable.”

Positive view
Others were taken aback by the suggestion that IATAN had no value.

At Connections Travel Agency in Waukesha, Wisc., co-owner Kelly Zimmerman called the card “very valuable.”

“It’s the only way you can separate the real travel agents; without the card you wouldn’t know whom you were dealing with.”

Credentials are important
Casto Travel obtains IATAN cards for all of its agents, said Marc Casto, president of the San Jose, Calif., agency. But, he added, the number of suppliers who ask for the card is “extremely small; the only one I know who asks for it is the off-airport parking lot.”

Still, the card “provides value because, for lack of a better alternative, it’s the industry credentialing service,” he said.

As a practical matter . . .
Travel industry attorney Mark Pestronk is among those who are critical of IATAN. “The card is definitely not as useful as it’s cracked up to be, and IATAN is not as important as it thinks it is,” he said flatly.

The official policy of the airlines is that a travel agent must have an IATAN appointment in order to sell air travel, Pestronk said. “If you have only an ARC appointment and you call Air China and ask about commissions, they are supposed to say they need your IATAN appointment,” Pestronk said. “But as a practical matter that doesn’t happen.”

Today, the IATAN card “is just for industry discounts,” he said – and even then, many suppliers do not require it. Moreover, hotels that do require agents to present the card often forget to ask for it at check-in, and many other suppliers no longer offer travel agent discounts at all.

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