Close to one million adults had the chance to read about the value of travel agents last week, as the Boston Globe and San Francisco Chronicle published articles, the result of a major PR push by the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA).
ASTA was actively pitching consumer media story ideas as Travel Agent Day (May 3) approached last week, seeking to help raise the public’s awareness of the industry and the value agents deliver to travelers. The Chronicle and Globe published stories written by staff, while other publications, including the New Haven Register, published articles written by travel agents themselves.
Erika Richter, ASTA’s director of communications, noted that ASTA and its PR agency reached out to key major consumer newspapers around the country leading up to the launch of the survey, as part of their ongoing media outreach.
“It really kicked off in 2016, when we started to ramp up our consumer awareness activities with support from our Chapter Presidents, including two consumer-facing videos, upgrades to our consumer website TravelSense.org and other initiatives,” Richter said. “And this year, the Chapter Presidents renewed their commitment to ASTA and consumer awareness by funding a second round of support. That sort of commitment provides the resources necessary to keep the consumer awareness machine running on all cylinders.”
In fact, ASTA has been able to place dozens of articles with television and radio outlets, as well as print and online publications throughout 2017, to promote the value agents create for consumers, and to continue to remind travelers that travel agents are still very much willing and able to serve consumers.
In the Boston Globe, reporter Stephanie Tyburski quoted ASTA’s recently published survey wrote that with “so little vacation time and so much money at stake, the pressure is on to make every moment count. Maybe that’s why the use of travel professionals jumped more than 50 percent between 2013 and 2016.”
The Globe lists a number of reasons why agents are the best choice for booking a leisure trip, including: saving time and money, the extra perks an agent can deliver, help if something goes wrong and the ability to consult on dream vacations.
To find a good agent, the Globe recommended “word-of-mouth” referrals from friends and family, ASTA’s travelsense.org search engine, as well as the annual “best of” rankings from Conde Nast Traveler Travel + Leisure.
“The trend toward agents taking their businesses off of Main Street means that travel agents are less visible than they used to be, and as a result many consumers assume they have gone the way. Of course, they’re not gone, those who aren’t on Main Street have simply shifted business models but they continue to provide valuable services to consumers,” Richter said. “This is the notion that we have to fight, and it’s going to be a multi-year process, but the good news is we’re already seeing results.”
The Globe quoted Misty Ewing Belles at Virtuoso, and Kimberly Wilson Wetty, co-president of Valerie Wilson Travel; Wetty said the best travel agents are great at “planning and executing experiences that you can’t Google.”
The San Francisco Chronicle article said “agents who have survived and thrived since the advent of the Internet have mostly done so by offering superior advice and service. An agent who specializes in your destination area, and who travels there regularly, can gauge your travel preferences and offer advice on accommodations, seasonal considerations and activities, and may be aware of money-saving promotions.”
During a May 2 press conference, ASTA president Zane Kerby continued to remind travel agents that raising their visibility remains a chief challenge for getting more bookings. Kerby remarked how consumers are mostly “agnostic” to how they will book, and that agents need to ingratiate themselves with clients and know their booking behaviors to make timely inquiries.
In the New Haven Register, Scott Largay, marketing director of Cheshire, CT-based Largay Travel, celebrated travel agents by offering six reasons they add value, including personalized planning, that helps tailor a trip “to your interests and budget,” global expertise and connections, VIP treatment, for “events, private tours, and more,” and peace of mind, from a human available 24/7 in the event something goes wrong.
Meanwhile, the Chronicle is partnering with Bay Area Consumers’ Checkbook magazine and Checkbook.org, a nonprofit consumer group, to help consumers see ratings of local travel agencies, provide advice on choosing and working with an agent, until May 31, 2017.