Copland: Even greater need for agents now

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NEW YORK -- Some travel industry suppliers thought they could replace travel agents, but that's not in the cards, ASTA president Richard Copland told delegates to the Society's congress here.

Government also has overlooked the agent's role as a key element in the travel sales equation, he said.

However, the Society president continued, in the wake of terrorist attacks that severely undermined the travel industry, both suppliers and the government are going to have to include agents in their councils because "we're the ones who have the trust of the traveler... [and suppliers] are going to need us more than ever."

Copland said the travel world has changed dramatically and the consumer is going to have an even greater need for information about destinations and a need for advice about the new rules at airports, train stations, cruise ship terminals and elsewhere.

And the source of that information is going to be agents, Copland said, adding that "it will be the interaction between the travel agent and the customer that will decide whether and under what conditions America will travel again."

Copland said suppliers "are going to have to let us into the inner circle."

Besides keeping agents informed, he said, suppliers have to be flexible.

"Nothing will deter advance travel planning more than inflexible cancellation policies," he said pointedly.

He said it will be the trade's role to reassure customers, and to that end, he urged agents to set an example by traveling themselves.

On the other hand, Copland said, agents won't push clients to go places they aren't comfortable visiting, and indeed, their counseling will mean sharing State Department advisories and other safety information and sometimes steering clients away from some destinations and toward others.

In his address to congress delegates, Copland said ASTA was joining with American Express to ask every agent member to pledge to send at least 10 people to New York in the next six months. American Express set up a pledge board at its trade show booth where delegates could make pledges in writing.

Copland turned, as well, to the original host city for the ASTA congress this year, Seville, Spain, first thanking the people of Spain for the time and money invested in planning the congress that was then relocated to New York.

He encouraged delegates to recommend Spain and specifically Seville to clients.

Ralph Ferrara, Schneider Travel in Butler, N.J., the ASTA congress chairman, had made several trips to Spain in anticipation of the event.

In his welcome remarks, he extolled the charms of Seville and encouraged delegates to visit, "and if you have been there, please promote the destination to your clients."

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