Agent Issues Home-based agents make mark with new jobs By David Cogswell / October 29, 2002 Share 1 -- NEW YORK -- Like most businesses, travel is a different industry from a decade ago, and it is attracting a new kind of agent -- a smarter self-starter who, most likely, works at home. These home-based agents -- often entering the industry as a second or third career -- are more focused on the business, are more comfortable with new technology and are more entrepreneurial in spirit, industry officials said."We are seeing a more business-oriented seller of travel," said Gary Fee, president of the Jupiter, Fla.-based Outside Sales Support Network (OSSN).And their numbers are growing every day. Fee said OSSN has grown faster in the last 12 months than at any time in its 12-year history."We have grown at least a third," he said. "It's coming from the sector that is working directly with the supplier community, becoming home-based agencies."These new home-based agents have been spawned by new software packages and technologies that make it possible for home-based agents to function as independents without the expenses of a GDS or a storefront, Fee said."There is a plethora of software programs that target this market now," said Fee. "Every day I get calls from software vendors offering tools for searching the Internet, defining, marketing and managing your business."John Hawks, president of ARTA, said these new agents "see themselves as businesspeople first, travel agents second. That's a change since I came here in 1997," he said. "Now, it's all bottom line; what brings money in the door and keeps it from going out."Ironically, the industry may have the struggling economy and failed dot-coms to thank for a lot of its new entrants."With all the layoffs, setbacks and furloughs in fields like telecommunications, finances and public accounting, many people have found that those areas don't provide the security they once did, so they've decided they may as well do what they love to do," according to Scott Ahlsmith, vice chairman of the Institute of Certified Travel Agents."These new agents are looking at travel as a career opportunity. Many of the most promising new entrants are people in their second or third careers," Ahlsmith said.Those agents bring enthusiasm and a fresh perspective to the industry, he said."In the travel industry, they are no longer part of the corporate world, subject to the whims of corporate leaders. They are in a more entrepreneurial environment," Ahlsmith said."These are fresh minds looking to make a mark in a new industry. Everything is changed. It's a new world."Professor: Internet has biggest impactNEW YORK -- Talula Guntner, a professor in the Travel & Tourism Department at Northern Virginia Community College in Annandale, Va., has been an agent for 30 years and now owns her own home-based agency.One of the biggest changes for agents, Guntner said, is the impact of the Internet on the industry.Though once seen as a threat by many agents, the Internet may now be their greatest ally, Guntner said."The Internet has helped my business," according to Guntner. "It's not just for browsing the Web but for helping my clients; you have to figure out what is happening with technology and make it work for you. A lot of things aren't what they used to be. But the opportunities are still there."Of course, Guntner said, there will always be a market for travel counselors who provide good value and good service to their clients.That won't change no matter what new technologies come along, she said. -- D.C.