Job title: 'Advisor' gains in popularity over 'agent'

ASTA rebranded itself the American Society of Travel Advisors last year, switching from "agents" to "advisors." It marked ASTA's first name change in 75 years. From there, the Society launched a campaign to get the rest of the industry to embrace "advisor" and rally around the idea that these travel retailers were more than "booking agents;" they were trusted advisors.

This year's Travel Industry Survey results indicate that the agency community is onboard with the term. When asked what best describes their function, "travel advisor" was chosen by 27% of respondents, a jump of 16 percentage points from the 2018 survey. It was the first time "advisor" had been the top answer since we began asking the question in 2011.

News editor Johanna Jainchill spoke to Erika Richter, ASTA's director of communications, about what it took to get this level of adoption and the challenges ahead. 

Q: How did you decide on "travel advisor"? For years in our survey, "travel consultant" was most consistently the top choice, followed by "travel agent."

A: The term "travel advisor" was already widely used by many in the industry. When we changed the name and went through renaming, it wasn't starting from nothing.  "Travel advisor" was already out there. But we had to do consumer research, and in 2017 we tested the term and what consumers prefer. "Travel advisor" ranked very high.

For us, as an industry association around since 1931, changing our name is a big deal. We needed to have data to back it up. We found "travel advisor" was the most appealing term. "Travel agent" didn't rank far below. To our surprise, "travel consultant" ranked moderately. That was the ammunition we needed to really take off with our rebrand. 

Erika Richter
Erika Richter

Q: "Travel agent" is still the main term people search online. How can that be overcome?

A: SEO is a challenge we'll continue to face. It's not going to change overnight, but over time it will improve as more industry professionals use the term "travel advisor." We wrote an open letter to the industry about it, and many supplier partners signed on and are committed to changing all marketing materials to use "travel advisor" instead of "travel agent." That was a big step in the right direction, and as more industry professionals use "travel advisor," it will start to rank higher in search.

We need to have everyone collectively embracing this new term in order to really make that impact in the digital space. We will see it shift organically in SEO, but that will continue to be a challenge that we face in marketing efforts. We have to teach Google to behave, and that's a beast. It takes a collective effort.

Q: What challenges remain in terms of getting wider industry adoption?

A: The other challenge is personal branding preference. We're not mandating that the industry adopt "travel advisor." We changed our name, and we're hoping they'll fall in line with us.

But personal branding preferences vary from "travel professional" to "travel consultant." Some people might want to call themselves a "trip whisperer." That's their preference. It's how they want to market themselves, and at the end of the day, we're all doing the same thing. But if it works for their personal brand to call themselves a "travel planner" or "travel designer" or "travel architect" or "dream weaver," that's their prerogative. That's their business.

We hope that one day everyone will collectively embrace "travel advisor," but it's still going to take some time. We rebranded just a little over a year ago. I think it will take a few more years for us to see a broader shift, but 16 points is significant.

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