If there is one Internet prediction on which most travel industry professionals agree, it is that agents can continue to prosper in the new technological age if they are specialists in almost any destination or niche.

The studies and surveys repeatedly tell us that retailers must offer added value to the potential buyer. It is a notion that applies to all industries, not just travel and tourism. The travel industry, however, literally offers the world as its playground, where the greatest obstacle to selecting a specialty could well be the number of choices.

The Internet might someday become all things to all people, but at least for the foreseeable future agents would do well to remember that knowledge still is power when it comes to the point of sale.

One group of agents acknowledging, indeed embracing, that idea recently "graduated" as certified sales specialists for Switzerland. In a program sponsored by Switzerland Tourism, the Swiss government's tourism arm, agents learn the minutiae of selling travel products to that part of the world. In return for their loyalty that brings tourism revenue to Switzerland, they earn higher pay on Swissair vacation packages. Of course, there is an Internet connection: Specialists who have their own Web sites get a listing on the Switzerland Tourism site.

Many countries, especially in Europe, have similar courses that result in specialist titles for travel agents. Wales, for instance, offers the Wise Wales program. And some, like the Swiss, want their groups of specialists to be, well, special. So they limit the number of people who can earn the designation.

Switzerland already has 382 specialists in the U.S. and is continuing the program only until there are 750.

We believe that agents would be well rewarded by providing what the Internet cannot.

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