Numbers game

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Nadine GodwinThe Travel Weekly agent advisory board met recently in Nashville, Tenn. At this meeting -- and, I would say, against all odds -- Airlines Reporting Corp. numbers turned out to be a most interesting topic.

First, one member advised that significant numbers of agents are moving their businesses home and no longer selling air, except perhaps as commissioned salespersons for someone else. However, to collect full pay from nonair suppliers, they are keeping their ARC numbers, filing zero reports and, reportedly, not telling ARC about the change of status.

I have no way of knowing how many agents have taken such steps, but what grabbed my attention was the way the ARC number has taken on a life of its own.

The story got better when I turned for more clarity to the non-ARC agent on our advisory board. This is what I learned: His agency had, "at last count," 37 ARC and/or International Air Transport Association numbers.

That's because, he said, no supplier wants to turn away sales from a viable agency.

However, most supplier computer systems identify agencies by ARC or IATA numbers. So, if you don't have one, you need one, and the eager supplier will oblige by assigning you one. That becomes your "ARC" or "IATA" number for dealing with that supplier.

It is true that some suppliers have programmed their systems to accept Cruise Lines International Association numbers. On the other hand, some cruise lines assign "ARC" numbers to agencies rather than use CLIA numbers.

Only a few of the larger hotel chains won't assign "ARC" or "IATA" numbers.

In a final irony, our non-ARC agency, which these days gets air tickets as needed from another agency and splits the pay, is routinely approached by airlines that want the agency to book groups with them directly. The carriers say they will assign an "ARC" number and pay overrides.

As more agencies turn away from air, what began as a convenient anomaly stands to become an ever bigger one with the broad use of "ARC" and "IATA" codes for working with suppliers of everything but air travel.

Also, this means nonair suppliers will lean less and less on the structured ARC and IATA systems to identify agencies; they have created or will be effectively creating their own pools of appointed agencies.

But, I wonder: Are suppliers differentiating effectively between full-time producers of leisure sales (whether based at home or in an office) and the part-time, home-based occasional sellers of travel?

And, I wonder: Does anyone have a true measure of the size of this shift away from air sales and away from the airline appointments that once constituted a standard definition of a travel agency?

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