We're not sure who coined the term "card
mill," but we're pretty sure it wasn't someone who ran one. It is a
strictly pejorative term, a term you can't use "in a good way."
We've never heard a
purveyor of travel agent credentials admit to being a card mill,
but we have heard them say that they have thousands of satisfied
customers and that the travel sellers in their networks deliver a
sizeable amount of business to industry suppliers.
And that, for the
enemies of card mills, is the problem. Card mills exist because
people derive economic benefits from them.
As they exist in the
travel industry today, card mills benefit their operators, the
travel sellers who join their networks and the suppliers whose
products and services are sold. One might argue that their
passengers also benefit, or at least think they do.
decision to distance its brands from certain card mills may prove
to be a sensible one, fully deserving the applause it has received
from traditional agents.
But the company's
move has given renewed life to a questionable idea -- that
suppliers can fix this problem by simply refusing to deal with
certain travel sellers.
Even assuming that
enough suppliers can be shamed into disavowing agency credentials
that were issued with a rubber stamp, suppliers need to do more to
establish a consensus about what kind of training or credentials a
professional travel agent is supposed to have.
If a few suppliers
deprive card mills of a product to sell, it would make traditional
agents feel better, but it wouldn't stop consumers from looking for
shortcuts and insider deals, and it wouldn't stop entrepreneurs
from finding ways to meet the demand.
If the travel
industry is going to rid itself of card mills, it has to convince
consumers and suppliers -- or, heaven forbid, lawmakers -- that
they provide no value, that their benefits are illusory and not worth
That would seem to be
a tall order in a world where all of us regularly make use of
Do all of us drive
around in cars that are maintained by the manufacturer's
Do we have our lawns
cared for by certified lawn-care professionals, or the kid down the
Do we have our
basements finished by certified home-improvement contractors, or a
brother-in-law who's handy with tools?
In a perfect world,
or even a better world, a professional travel counselor's
credentials would consist of something more than a love of travel
and a $499 ID badge.
In the real world,
however, that's all it will take as long as consumers believe that
some guy with a pickup and a chain saw is just as good as an
What's at issue here
is not merely travel credentials but the very idea of credentials.
In the real world, there's always going to be "some guy."
we had to place a bet a week ago, we would have wagered that
Cunard's next ship order would be for a cruise ship to add a new
dimension to the Cunard experience, not another regal liner.
Certainly not a third big queen.
But we would have
lost that bet, for obvious reasons.
As poker hands go,
three ladies beats a pair of queens any day.