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‘Selling travel is a profession’ – Maintaining and Improving Standards

‘Selling travel is a profession, not just a hobby.’ – Derek Jones, UK CEO of DerTouristik, June 2019

From years of experience in selling travel, I know it isn’t easy. You have to be thoughtful, truthful, caring, understanding, patient, focused, enthusiastic, confident, transparent, unique, a great storyteller, a great listener and adapt to any situation. Really that list is never ending and ever evolving.

We have to be teachers, psychologists, doctors, accountants, writers, artists, marketers and probably even more important, a friend. You have to do all those things, while following regulation be it the ABTA Code of Conduct, ATOL regulations, the Package Travel Regulations, GDPR, PSD2, Money Laundering and many more…

This is even before you get to product and supplier knowledge, the backbone of a professional travel agent. Knowing exactly the right destination, the right hotel, the right supplier or tour operator, or the right product. Even more, we can back that up with our contacts who can help us make the ordinary, extraordinary.

Selling travel isn’t straightforward, don’t let anyone fool you into thinking its easy, it isn’t. Those who know, know that. We are at the front line of making millions of people’s dream become a reality, and with that brings responsibility. Especially when they are spending several thousand pounds with you, and in some cases, more than some people earn in a year. You have to get it right.

So, what happens if professionalism is taken away? We end up with a lack of understanding of the industry, misinformation, and frequent breaches of regulation. All of which are there for a reason, to protect us and our customers. Tour operators have a hard choice of deciding who should represent their company, over a potential increase in sales at any cost. The value of knowledge is diminished.

It was a little while ago on the Facebook group ‘Travel Gossip’ I suggested the idea of an industry-wide accreditation scheme for those who sell travel products. While companies may have various associations and memberships it belongs to and follows their rules – there isn’t anything similar for those who actually sell, a ‘kite mark’ for travel if you like.

Those who are true travel professionals wouldn’t have a problem, you are there already – but needs and should be a level playing field.

Even from the very start of my career as an apprentice, gaining an NVQ Level 3 in Travel Services 15 years ago, those foundations have always stayed with me. Everyone else should have them too. I champion those who are true professionals in our fantastic industry, between us we do an amazing job and its something worth protecting.

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A good travel agent doesn’t have to be a homeworker

I am a travel person, and you could say I have always been a travel person. When I did my first work experience in a Thomas Cook Shop over fifteen years ago, the teacher who later became my head of sixth form was so impressed at my knowledge that he encouraged me to forge a career in travel, even if that meant missing out on university. At the time that was unusual, everyone was going to university and I was almost sat on the sidelines, but some good fortune meant I was able to find an apprenticeship with an independent travel agency in my local area.

Knowledge has always been my prize possession. That doesn’t have to mean that you have direct knowledge, for instance having travelled to a particular resort or hotel, but you are able to have deep knowledge on how the system works. I have been following the aviation industry for the best part of 25 years (and yes I am not much older than that, I started young!). It has seen considerable change over that period, from a time where there was no such thing as a ‘low cost airline’ to nowadays where we thing nothing of jetting off to somewhere for a quick break. However, the systems and processes behind the growth hasn’t changed, as that is quite true of a travel agent too.

As a travel agent we do get some flack. The most common being has the internet not killed you off yet, and my response is why should it? If they knew and trusted a good travel agent they wouldn’t be asking me that question. Its all about relationships and people trusting either your opinion or knowledge. Don’t knock it until you try it, and you might be surprised.

High street travel agents, at least the good ones are not going anywhere either. Sometimes I’m felt to feel inferior to those who work from home with the belief we only work during office hours with a restricted portfolio of operators to work with. That in reality isn’t the case, you are either a good travel agent or not, it doesn’t matter where your office is.

There has been many a time replying to a clients email at 10pm at night, reassuring about a query or a problem, or just talking to them at a time which is convenient for them, which might not be the usual office hours. I also hand deliver tickets if required, and email the hotels ahead of time for those where I have a contact to make sure the clients are made to feel at home.

All of this is very simple, and ‘delights’ clients. With modern technology anybody can do this anywhere, be it by email, text or even Skype to be as flexible as possible, and you have to make the right contacts.

I’m proud I work in a high street agency and believe me when I say the good ones can really make a difference when organising and booking your holiday.