YTB creates 'affiliates' label for agents making referrals only

By Nadine Godwin

The YTB Travel Network, which has to date lumped its affiliated travel sellers into one category (referring travel agents, or RTAs), on Oct. 18 will roll out a two-tier approach that differentiates between those who actively sell travel and those who merely refer prospects to a website for self-booking. 

Kim Sorensen, president of the network, said YTB (No. 26 on Travel Weekly's 2008 Power List) would focus its training efforts on those who want to be more than referral agents, improving their skills and ultimately boosting productivity.

For those who merely want to refer business to websites, he said, nothing will change except their title; they will be called affiliates.

For those who want to handle bookings directly with suppliers and develop group business, YTB will offer an improved commission split: 70% of earned commissions, up from 60%, plus opportunities for bonuses. It will also require that they first complete a new educational program. They will still be called RTAs.

YTB has offered its RTA certification program, a one-day classroom event, "but it did not go far enough in the meat department," Sorensen said. The new online training program, called First Class Training, "increases the meat ... pretty dramatically," he said. It will include a range of supplemental reference materials, all in one place, to enable the participants to delve deeply into a range of subjects, he said.

Sorensen said YTB aimed to develop a third, higher tier for those who will drop the word "referring" from their title and simply be called travel agents.

Meanwhile, he said, "It may look as if we are trying to fit in better [in the industry], and there is a little of that."

But, he said, "I want a lot of well-trained people" to improve sales. In addition, he said, the plan will respond to suppliers' wish to be able to identify the active sellers among YTB associates.

This plan, he said, helps the industry understand the YTB sales force, which already is really two groups, he said.

He acknowledged industry criticism of YTB, but he said he believed YTB was performing a service by making it easier for prospects to get into the travel business, especially in a weakened economy where it will be tougher for newcomers to get full-time jobs.

He used a sports analogy, saying the reason the biggest schools generally have the best football teams is because they can choose the best players from a larger pool of candidates.

Similarly, he said, at YTB, he wants quality, too, but "we have to get the quantity first to get the quality at the end." At the end of June, YTB counted 131,572 RTAs.

In July, YTB advised the Securities and Exchange Commission it was considering replacing its RTA business model with a franchise system, possibly in 2009. Sorensen said YTB was still working on the franchise plan, but the company was "probably several months away from that."

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