n discussing the need for agreed-upon
standards in industry certification, Travel Institute president
David Preece made a candid observation.
After noting the tough times his organization (whose members are
primarily traditional travel agents) has endured in recent years,
he said, "How travel is distributed is the issue, not whether
people are traveling. The trend line for travel will continue to go
up -- in the long-term, the effect of 9/11 on travel will only be a
In connecting the dots between that statement and his desire for
universally recognized certification, Preece appears to be saying
that standardized, professional credentials can strengthen the
traditional travel channels.
Preece won't find philosophical opposition to his goal. There
may be some parochial debate between, for instance, Nacta and OSSN
about what home-based agents need to know to be "professional," but
it's unlikely he'll find disagreement about the desirability of his
Preece has invited ARC, Iatan and 17 major professional
associations to assist in creating new standards. As they begin, I
hope they take note of the uninvited, the elephant that's not in
the room. There's no professional organization (yet) that
represents the likes of InterActiveCorp, Travelocity, Priceline and
If there were -- and Preece had invited it -- it might have
accepted the invitation, but only out of politeness. The fact of
the matter is that professional certification is irrelevant to the
leadership of the online giants. And they're the ones gaining
It can help a traditional agency's credibility, both in the
office and on the Web, if employees have verifiable credentials.
But I doubt Expedia has lost a single sale because its president,
Erik Blachford, doesn't have CTC after his name.
Preece must make sure that the changes in travel distribution
are taken into account within any new certification program. He
needs to identify core competencies that go far beyond basic sales
skills and destination/product knowledge.
Vacation.com, Amex and Carlson have announced that they are not
ceding the online business to existing leaders, and the last-named
two groups may already possess the resources to play in that space.
But individual agencies can't, unless a certification program
provides them with the expertise to raise millions in venture
capital and create cutting-edge technology.
With all due respect to the invited organizations and their
leaders, the people who can most help Preece's certification
process be meaningful are the agency owners who are happy in this
new environment, the ones who don't want to turn back the clock.
These are the agents who can identify new competencies for this era
of competing distribution channels.
Finding such agents will require recognition, incidentally, that
some of the most successful agencies are not members of any
professional association. Many can be found, however, in agency
chains, consortia or franchises. The institute's board includes
leaders of these groups, and they'll need to be actively involved,
The elephant can't be co-opted, is difficult to compete with
and, though he's not in the room, still makes his presence felt.
But there are an increasing number of lithe, quick creatures in the
industry jungle who live contentedly among the elephants. Their
input in the certification process is critical, and their
involvement should begin sooner rather than later.