The recently named American Society of Travel Advisors is clawing itself back from two decades of an identity crisis, and will soon promote a new, more youthful digital marketing campaign and push people toward a redesigned consumer travel site. But before the group takes the final steps in its rebranding, it is making sure the travel industry has its back.
ASTA released an open letter last week to members of the travel industry, urging them to “speak with one voice” on a critical issue.
The issue? Terminology. ASTA wants the entire travel industry to stop using the term “travel agents,” replacing it exclusively with “travel advisors.”
And a ton of travel companies — more than 70 — have already signed on, including big names in the cruise and hotel industries, such as Royal Caribbean, Marriott, and Hyatt. Most of the big travel agency groups, from Virtuoso to Travel Leaders and Signature Travel Network endorsed the letter.
Not a single airline appeared on the letter.
Also notably absent from the list were Carnival Cruise Line — although Carnival Corp. brands Princess Cruises, Holland America Line, and Seabourn signed on — and Expedia. A representative for Expedia could not be reached for comment, but Carnival spokeswoman AnneMarie Mathews said the cruise line would start “adopting the new terminology over time and where it makes sense.”
She added that the line’s senior vice president of sales and trade marketing, Adolfo Perez, would face a unique difficulty. He famously got a tattoo on his arm that says “Travel Agents Rock” in 2017. “Adolfo says he’s not changing his tattoo!” Mathews wrote in an email.
Hertz and Avis were signatories to the letter, which was a month in the making, according to an ASTA spokesperson, and Enterprise said it is in talks with ASTA about the move.
“Enterprise fully supports ASTA’s commitment to urge the industry to make the change to ‘travel advisor,'” said Enterprise spokeswoman Lisa Martini. “In the past week, we’ve had discussions with ASTA to ensure they understand our support of this effort, and we also have been working within our own team to ensure we understand the process of making this change to existing and future materials.”
ASTA made this shift on its own in August, removing the word agent from its name, replacing it with advisor, and promising a marketing campaign to promote Travelsense.org after a redesign. The move makes sense, considering the shift in the profession over the past several years. When airlines began lowering and then removing commissions for travel advisors in the late 1990s, travel agencies suffered a major blow. Many travelers and airlines began to view travel agents as unnecessary and expensive.
The industrywide name change that ASTA favors is designed to alter a common perception of what travel advisors actually do. “Today’s travel agents are no longer mere booking intermediaries,” ASTA writes in the letter. Instead, “they have become trusted advisors —akin to financial planners and CPAs.”
But does the organization really expect every company in the travel industry to use the same exact term? Many travel agencies have already opted for something more modern, such as “travel counselor,” “travel specialist,” or “travel guru.” It is unclear how much ground ASTA can make up enforcing something that is essentially a company-specific preference.
“I personally think the terminology ‘agent’ refers more towards an order taker, which was what travel agents were years ago,” said Lia Botkin, head of In the Know Experiences, a luxury travel brand that refers to its advisors as gurus or managers. “Therefore it is now necessary to tweak the name of our profession as our job has changed.”
However, Botkin said she would not be following in lock-step with ASTA, preferring the alternative terms her company already uses.
Plus, the majority of companies that signed on are luxury travel companies, with corporate travel seemingly holding back. The leisure-oriented American Express Travel, for example, pledged to make the change, but American Express Global Business Travel, which was spun out of American Express a few years ago and focuses on corporate travel, did not.
An American Express Global business travel spokesperson said the business travel company is separate from the leisure travel brand, potentially hinting at a larger divide within the overall industry. The spokesperson wouldn’t comment further.
But even with these differences, the overwhelming reaction from travel marketers and travel agencies was positive.
“It’s really important, and I think it’s great that ASTA is doing this,” said Linda Kaniper from Dana Communications, a travel marketing company. “It was time for a rebranding. It breathes new life into the industry.”
Following is the industry letter that ASTA circulated.