Travel Agents to Critics: We’re Not Dead Yet!

After a recent blog post called its profession a "useless job," the American Society of Travel Agents pushed back hard--and successfully changed the narrative.

Looking to ruffle some feathers? Simple: Suggest that in the age of the internet, the travel agent is useless.

That’s what the jobs site CareerCast did a little while ago, and it’s still hearing about it from the industry—thanks in large part to an effective reaction from a travel agency association. More details:

The post in question: CareerCast recently published a blog post titled “When All Else Fails, Consider a Useless Job”—an article that suggested some positions that had been disrupted significantly or made obsolete by technology. Among the jobs mentioned as “the most menial, obsolete, and downright useless jobs in the working world” were data entry work, so-called “atmosphere coordinators” at nightclubs, sign-spinners—and travel agents. “Planning a trip today is a do-it-yourself endeavor: You can book accommodations, transportation, discover restaurants and entertainment, and navigate your route all online,” wrote Kyle Kensing. “Thus, the traditional travel agent is no longer necessary. However, specialized travel agents still exist to tackle unusual or exotic requests, usually from wealthy clients. They’ve created a niche that has turned a useless job into a profitable one.”

The reaction: When the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) spotted the post, it hit back hard—pointing out that the article was based on perceptions about the industry that are easily proved false. “Basic research would have shown that as of year-end 2012, there were about 8,000 U.S. travel agency firms in business employing 105,000 people. In 143 million transactions, those agencies sold $86 billion worth of air travel (64 percent of the market),” ASTA stated in a press release. “While online agents account for a lot of that business, so-called traditional agents actually sell about half of it, in addition to the vast majority of the $15 billion worth of cruises (64 percent) and $9 billion in tour packages (66 percent). Those are big numbers.”

The result: The association’s tough response to the blog post made waves in the press—and in the post’s comments section, where many readers defended travel agents’ profession. In the end, the reaction drew more attention than the slight itself—with The Los Angeles Times, Time magazine, and The Washington Post picking up the story. Post reporter Lydia DePillis pointed out that annual earnings for travel agents actually are on the rise. The industry also drew other defenders, such as travel blogger Peter Greenberg, who noted the specific needs that travel agents fulfill. “Here’s the thing,” he wrote. “Don’t just hire the first travel agent you find online. Hire one that is specialized for what you want to do.”

How would you handle negative press about your industry? Tell us all about it in the comments.


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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