CLIA’s top executive, Christine Duffy, is calling on the entire travel industry to work together to support the future of the travel agency distribution channel.
Agents need to re-define who they are and what they do in the eyes of the consumer and reestablish their relevance and value. But the agency industry can’t do it alone. All stakeholders in the survival of the travel agency community as a distribution system must be involved.
This was the message from Christine Duffy, president and CEO of CLIA, who addressed an audience of 1,200 travel agents at the recent cruise3sixty conference in Fort Lauderdale.
“We need to bring together stakeholders who benefit and rely upon a healthy distribution channel. That includes agents, agencies, travel industry associations, and suppliers,” she said.
Duffy also discussed the findings from a new CLIA report that provides context to the ongoing discussion of how to elevate the role of the travel agency industry in the public eye.
The report is a first step in an organized, industry-wide approach to the challenges and opportunities facing the agency industry, she said. “Our aim simply is to attempt to organize an industry-wide dialogue and approach. As an industry, we have to be more proactive.”
Key issues in the report
The report, sponsored and written by CLIA, with input from ASTA, is titled: From Travel Agent to ‘Travel Advisor’: Defining, Elevating and Promoting the Role of Travel Agents for the Next Generation.
It identifies key issues the profession must address, including:
• Define the value of travel agents, lest others do the defining for them;
• Evolve the perception of what a travel agent is in the minds of consumers of all ages;
• Promote actively the tangible value of travel agents;
• Attract new talent, particularly Gen X and Gen Y employees.
Travel executives chime in
Following Duffy’s introduction of the new CLIA report, a panel of executives from other segments of the travel industry added their perspective.
“People are spending an awful lot of time chasing after non-verifiable, user-generated opinions about what’s going on, and it’s just starting to be too much,” Tony Gonchar, CEO of ASTA, said. “So they’re fleeing to the value of the travel agent to help them with what we collectively call the return on experience.”
Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, agreed that the glut of information is leaving consumers confused.
“Trust can’t be over-said. The further up you go on what the expenditure costs, the more trust is important. When you’re shelling out the amount of money you put out for a cruise, you want to know, ‘Does this person know what’s right for me?’”
Value of traditional agents
Agents are still important to suppliers too, Gonchar added.
“The value of a traditional travel agent transaction versus an OTA transaction or direct transaction is about 50% higher.”
Agents also generate new business generation for suppliers, he noted.
“It’s very difficult for suppliers to find that group of 10 people who are part of a church in Canton, Ohio, as effectively as travel agents are doing.”
Attracting new talent
The panel also addressed the issue of how to entice new talent into the industry.
“The CLIA paper kicks off a really good dialogue that we need to start about the fragmented approach that individual organizations and companies are taking on bringing new people into the industry,” Gonchar said.
“We need to elevate that discussion to how can we create an umbrella for this so consumers see that this is not only a viable career to potentially pursue, but one which has a high return for their use.”
One example Gonchar gave was the Joining Forces campaign, which ASTA has entered into with the White House to bring military veterans into the travel industry. In just one month, a coalition of companies has already hired 500 veterans, he said.