So you've taken our advice on the benefits of serving on travel
agent advisory boards (Agent Life, Nov. 22) and have received an
invite to join one. But how will you know if it's truly worth your
time and effort?
According to an industry expert -- Donald
Reynolds of Reynolds Associates in New York -- there are three main
factors to consider when checking out an advisory board.
Reynolds, an industry veteran who formerly served as vice
president of advertising and public relations for ASTA, now creates
agent advisory boards for travel companies such as Amtrak, Avis and
First, he said, you'll want to know if the board has been taken
seriously by the company or destination it's supposed to advise. At
the first meeting you attend, a good sign to look for is a review
of the board's recommendations from the prior meeting -- what
Reynolds called "a triage of yes, no and maybe."
You should find out what proposals have definitely been acted
upon and what the ultimate results were; what is still being worked
on, and what items have been delayed or postponed.
Second, keep an eye on who's attending from the supplier's side,
he said. If you find yourself sitting across the table from
somebody's secretary or a tape recorder, forget about it.
"In attendance should be management -- senior management -- and
the person charged with travel industry marketing sales," Reynolds
said. Often, companies will bring in a senior member of management
to hear discussions on specific topics.
Finally, and perhaps most important, the supplier needs to be
accountable to the board. "The [supplier] has to indicate to a
board that it is listening and, where possible, acting."
Reynolds said this last step is quite important. "You're taking
[time] out of [agents'] lives, [so agents] like to walk away
feeling that their time has been worthwhile and invested
If things are going well, you'll quickly note that your fellow
retailers are genuinely looking forward to the next chance to get
together, he said.
For many of the boards he works with, "we have agents calling
who want to know when the next meeting is," he said.
Advisory boards: Getting that invite
What if you want to serve on an advisory board but have yet to
be asked? You needn't wait for an engraved invitation.
Industry expert Donald Reynolds said an agent's best bet for
being considered is to take the direct approach.
There are two ways of doing this,
said Reynolds, who creates agent advisory boards for travel
companies (see story above).
One technique is to write to suppliers you know well that have
an advisory board and plainly ask to be considered, he said. If the
supplier in question doesn't have a board yet, you can always
suggest that it start one, he said.
"Just say, [it] should have an agent advisory board because if
[it] did, [it] wouldn't do all those dumb things it's doing,'"
Reynolds jokingly offered as a suggestion.
Another way to put your expertise to use is to directly contact
Reynolds, at (212) 532-8845. His company maintains a database on
agents with specialized skills.
"If I'm out somewhere, and I see someone who asks intelligent
questions in a meeting, I'll get a card. Later, I'll call and
interview [him or her]," he said.
If the need for, say, a Baltics specialist ever comes up, then
Reynolds is prepared to tell his client, "we've got a terrific
person for you."
Making it work
Agents can make advisory board membership an invaluable
experience, according to Donald Reynolds, who sets up such
On a professional level, it's an extremely effective way of
getting a company or supplier to make its policies and promotions
more agent-friendly, he said.
personal level, participants on a good board will find themselves
surrounded by accomplished peers who can teach them how to improve
their own businesses.
Reynolds said that his company deliberately seeks out agents who
are both articulate and collegial, so the group will function well;
otherwise, agents "are not going to open up."
Board networking can help build long-term relationships.
"[Agents] walk away from meetings having learned as much as they
gave. If you talk to our Avis advisory board [members], they'll
tell you that they call each other between meetings."
Another benefit is the free peek that agents can take inside the
minds of suppliers, he said. "I think agents are quite fascinated
to learn how companies arrive at decisions. At Avis, [vice
president, travel industry sales and marketing] Daryl Thrasher
makes a point of briefing his advisory board about what's going on
at Avis and in the industry in a very nitty-gritty way," providing
a valuable tutorial on the state of the market, he said.
And finally, those with an altruistic bent will derive great
satisfaction from knowing that they've helped grease the wheels of
progress or improved a destination's ability to sell itself.
As Reynolds said, the agents who are best suited for a seat on
the board have the trait to give "in their makeup."