Travel agents are hot again -- and so is the discussion over what they should be called.
In an article in the Boston Globe, columnist Mark Peters noted that "in our age of Kayak and TripAdvisor, the travel agent feels more dated than the rotary phone." Citing a July 5 article in The New York Times entitled "Travel Agents? No. Travel 'Designers' Create Strategies, Not Trips," Peters said "travel agencies struggling in the online world have gone upscale to survive."
Indeed, agents need to think about these things, because they convey an image of how you are seen. And choosing the right terminology can influence whether you are found online.
If you search for a "travel agent" in Nashville, TN, for example, you will find agents like Dove Travel and Cruises at the top of your search. But if you Google "travel designer," a group of Travel Leaders agents appears on top.
"If you don't rely on a search engine to discover your website, than the 'designer' names are great. But for those of us that do rely on search engines, we have to stick to what the general public is going to type in," said Pam Smith, owner of Beach Vacations and Beyond in Broken Arrow, OK. Smith calls herself a travel agent, as does Sharon Berkebile Printy, who appends 'agent' with 'event coordinator' at Good Life Travel and Events, LLC, in Lake Mary, FL.
Robin Isquith, owner of Stones Throw Travel in Carefree, AZ, calls herself a travel agent online "because that's what resonates with the public. However, my business cards say 'travel sales.' I am in the business of sales. I stay away from the words 'designer,' 'consultant' and 'planner' because I believe that those words don't denote sales. I feel that people think if they go to a planner, consultant or designer, they take the travel plan and book themselves. I sell travel and I make it very clear that I am in sales."
Jeni Chaffer, owner of Journeys Travel Inc. in Bourbonnais, IL, refers to herself as a travel consultant. "When I purchased my first agency in 2006, an existing storefront with 'order takers,' they were 'agents.' I have always felt that it was important to develop a relationship with both my clients and my suppliers. Therefore, I refer to myself as a 'travel consultant.' I hold a consultation appointment with my clients to determine what they are looking for."
Chaffer thinks names like 'travel designer' and 'travel concierge' work well for those who market themselves as their own agency. "But if their marketing doesn't support it, it doesn't matter anyway."
Jacob Marek, owner of IntroverTravels in Sioux Falls, SD, calls himself a "travel advisor."
"I used to call myself a 'travel professional' until I came across research recently that suggested a few leading descriptors. I settled on 'travel advisor' and feel good about the switch."
Penny Gellatly, owner of Escape by Travel in Cloquet, MN, and Iesha L. Brewton, owner of Peace of Mind Travel Services in Colorado Springs, CO, call themselves "travel consultants."
Stacey Robertson Ray, chief executive officer at Groupit Travel Host Agency for Travel Agents in Cary, NC, uses "travel specialist," while Lori Gold is a "luxury travel designer" at Travel Network in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, and Tracee Williams, owner of Destinations in Fayetteville, AR, uses "luxury vacation designer."