Sherrie, my wife, joined Pacesetter Tours in a different time and place. Different place: She operated from a basement office as an outbound tour operator. Different time: The federal government required that the need for the business had to be demonstrated before an operating permit would be issued.
When she opened Just Cruisin' in 1988 as the first cruise-only agency in the state of Tennessee, she had a small office outside the home. No one treated the business as a "real" travel agency because it wasn't ARC or IATA appointed and didn't issue air tickets.
For some people, the negative connotation for agencies that aren't brick-and-mortar persists. In the U.K., referring to a seller of travel as "home-based" is particularly derisive and negative. In the U.S., the appellation is often used to describe someone not seriously in the business or a hobbyist mainly booking travel for themselves and friends or to take advantage of "free" travel offers.
Then along came February 2020, and the wheels began coming off the travel industry wagon. I'm not aware of a single supplier or seller in the travel industry that was not negatively affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Many travel retailers closed their brick-and-mortar operations altogether. Others responded to citywide shutdowns by dispersing employees to remote operations from their homes.
We closed our offices on March 20, 2020, in response to a governmental directive, fully intending to reopen three weeks later "when all of this was behind us."
Except "this" didn't go away in three weeks. And when our lease expired and freed up enough funds to pay one employee for a month, we decided not to return to our offices. We realized we could do anything with this arrangement except meet people in person (which was less than 2% of our business) and could visit clients via teleconference technology we would never have employed otherwise.
And it wasn't just retailers that sent people home. Cruise lines, tour operators and other travel suppliers sent all or most of their employees home, quickly putting together remote access computer networks that permitted more or less normal operations.
That was brought home to me about six months into the pandemic when, in speaking to a cruise line reservation agent, I learned that 1) she was located less than 30 miles away from me in Tennessee and 2) she took calls for three different suppliers -- one located in California, the other two in Washington.
It seemed logical to me that one would ever label these huge travel suppliers with the pejorative name "home-based."
Thus, it seemed to make little sense to put a sometimes-negative label on travel agencies that operated from a home.
Rather, in addition to brick-and-mortar agencies and the home-based agency, additional categories that recognize today's business models are needed:
- Virtual: This is a travel retailer with employees (both administrative and sales) who work remotely from a physical "main office" via virtual private networks and VoIP phones.
- Hosted: Agencies that operate remotely under a host agency, perhaps from their home, as an independent contractor through that a host agency.
- Independent: A full-time travel professional (who may be the only employee) who is indeed a travel retailer operating from an office in their home.
It's like this ... there are many more descriptive, accurate business names that can be used to communicate to the public who we are and what we do.