Travel Agent vs. Travel Advisor: Who Are We, Really?

Travel Agent vs Travel Advisor

The travel industry is constantly evolving, with new trends and must-visit destinations emerging every season. 

So, too, is the work of travel professionals ever-changing. Shifts in demand and the growth of technologies have added to their long list of duties and reshaped their traditional roles. 

In 2019, InteleTravel followed the lead of the recently rebranded trade association American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA) in dropping the term ‘travel agent,’ and adopting ‘travel advisor,’ to more accurately represent ourselves and our efforts.

This name change has become even more relevant recently. Customers need expert guidance when deciding not only where they should travel to, but if they should travel at all. Advisors study every aspect of the travel industry to provide that guidance: restrictions, potential destinations, and the minutiae of insurance policies, among these. 

Advisors are so much more than salespeople, and if you’re not familiar with the profession, now’s a good time to get acquainted. 

Why the change?

‘Travel agent’ is an outdated term that falls short of defining our current job responsibilities. In fact, the ASTA’s rebranding was the organization’s first in nearly 75 years

That’s an eternity in the travel industry. Consider this: Commercial flights emerged in popularity in the 1950s; cruise lines Royal Caribbean and Carnival were founded in 1968 and 1972, respectively; and Walt Disney World opened in 1971.

Add in the long list of popular destinations that have welcomed tourists en masse after decades of geographic or cultural isolation—such as Iceland, Egypt, and Thailand—and you begin to understand that travel today is not what it was in the 1940s. The same is true of ‘travel agents.’

Let's look at the differences between the old term and the new.

Travel Agents

Travel agencies date back to 1841, when businessman Thomas Cook opened operations by offering 'holiday’ train excursions to the British countryside. Advancements in transportation expanded vacation possibilities, a trend continued to this day. 

From the mid-20th century to the present, travel agents have mainly served as booking agents for airlines and hotels. 

Think back to family trips of your youth: There’s a decent chance a travel agent was involved at some point, especially if you were embarking on a cruise or to an international destination. Your travel agent likely handled flights, potential upgrades, and packaged amenities.

This obviously changed with online travel sites. Not only could tourists conduct their own research, but also book their own trips, with little effort involved

Still, agents remained relevant for specialty trips—such as group travel and luxury vacations—and securing exclusive deals. The original ‘travel agent’ moniker is still often used today, even after the ASTA officially made its switch.

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Travel Advisors

Despite the familiarity of ‘travel agent,’ you should understand why the new name was adopted.

‘Travel advisor’ re-emphasizes the growing importance of the profession to the industry: They provide human connection in a world where everything is increasingly automated and online. They represent new and improved versions of travel agents. They don't just work to book flights, as their predecessors once did; they advise clients on everything from transportation to food to tours, and even lend personal touches by learning more about you than simply where you want to go. 

Travel advisors are specialists, possessing deep knowledge and extensive experience in niches such as cruises, escorted land tours, bachelorette parties, and multigenerational family vacations, just to name a few.

They've also traveled extensively themselves, and thus intimately know the many destinations and adventures recommended to clients. They hold certifications, watch webinars, and continually educate themselves to remain up to date on all the latest trends and hotspots. They leverage connections, share invaluable insights, and secure the best possible pricing for clients.

Most importantly, they understand travelers’ safety concerns and work to provide appropriate solutions, while remaining flexible.

The bottom line: Advisors are so much more than call centers that take credit card numbers and book flights. They advise, and in the current climate, that’s just what you need. 

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