In the wake of ASTA rebranding itself as the American
Society of Travel Advisors last year, the industry has, for the most part,
embraced the term "travel advisor" over "travel agent."
But ASTA and the travel retail community are both finding
they still have to use the term "travel agent" to drive online traffic.
Even so, most are encouraged by the shift from "agent"
to "advisor," as they believe it will ultimately help focus consumers
on the services they provide.
"I do think that for the sake of the industry, for
there to be alignment and there to be a common term that's used among all the
different levels of distribution is good," said Brian Hegarty, vice
president of marketing at Travel Leaders Group. "If we're all using a
common term [for] what we're doing, I think that only does good for the
industry. ... It's one of those situations where if the tide rises, all of the
boats are going to go up with it."
"Travel agent" remains a popular term with
consumers. Google Trends data, which aggregates searches for particular terms
and ranks them over time on a proportional scale of 0 to 100, with zero
representing low search volume, illustrates its popularity. "Travel agent"
has consistently ranked higher than "travel advisor" and other terms
commonly used since 2004, the earliest year tracked by Google Trends.
For example, from March 3 to 9, "travel agent"
ranked 100, while "travel advisor" ranked 11. The spelling "travel
adviser" ranked 0, "travel consultant" ranked 3 and "travel
professional" ranked 2.
"The internet hasn't caught up to our name change, and
it's going to take time, and it's going to take a concentrated effort on our
end," said Erika Richter, ASTA's director of communications.
In the meantime, many in the industry, ASTA included, are
deploying a strategy that uses both terms -- "travel agent" and "travel
advisor" -- in efforts to drive online traffic, including paid placement
on Google searches and search engine optimization (SEO). That includes using
both terms for paid searches and including content on websites that references
"I think that we have to understand that the consumer
hasn't quite caught on yet, and that's just going to take time," Richter
said. "We're working on it, but in the meantime, we have to address both
terminologies ... but we're also really amplifying our search terminologies for
'travel advisor,' too, so it's kind of like a dual process. That's the reality
The Society's push to make "travel advisor" the
standard industry term got a boost earlier this year with an open letter from a
number of players, including consortia and suppliers, encouraging the use of "travel
There is clearly fragmentation within the agency community
in how advisors describe themselves. Travel Weekly's 2018 Travel Industry
Survey found that 34% of respondents describe themselves as a "travel
consultant" while 24% use the term "travel agent," 20% use "travel
specialist," 11% use "travel advisor," 6% use "travel counselor"
and 4% use some other term.
Passport Online recently conducted a Facebook poll among a
closed group of agents who use its social media posting services and found that
61.6% of respondents use "travel advisor," 25% use "travel
consultant," 11.6% use "agent" and the rest use another term.
Jeanne Colombo, Passport Online's vice president of
strategic partnerships, said several commenters indicated that while they might
prefer other terms, the public responds best to "travel agent."
That's also been the experience of Adam Lazarus, vice
president of digital strategy at Tucson, Ariz.-based Bon Voyage Travel and
"We're trying to transition the user to understand that
advisor is the proper term," Lazarus said, "but the public largely still
uses the term 'travel agent.' You lose on SEO if your website doesn't say 'agent.'"
On both Bon Voyage Travel's website and at Cruiseinsider.com,
Lazarus said, the term "travel advisor" is used frequently, with
others like "expert" and "consultant" employed
occasionally. But "travel agent" still plays a big part in paid
search and consistently gets better results in A-B testing than "travel
In many ways, the shift from "agent" to "advisor"
comes down to an industry branding issue.
Chris Davidson, executive vice president of insights and
strategy at the travel marketing agency MMGY Global, expressed surprise that "advisor"
had not already overtaken "agent" in the popular vernacular.
"Everything we see in our data indicates that travelers
who use travel agents do so because of reasons that are more in line with what
you would expect from an advisor versus a true agent," Davidson said.
MMGY's consumer research, he said, indicates that people who
have used travel agents rely on them for destination knowledge and making
complicated itineraries work.
"These are people who want to have the confidence that
they're going to get the most out of their vacation, and that to me is a
perfect role for an advisor," he said.
Later this spring, ASTA plans to relaunch a modernized
Travelsense.org, its consumer-facing site, which includes resources for
travelers and advisor profiles. Richter said she expects that to help educate
consumers about the shift to the term "advisor," as ASTA is investing
in both paid search and SEO to drive traffic to the site. Its consumer
awareness budget was recently approved, Richter said, giving the Society a
financial boost to drive traffic to Travelsense.org and ASTA.org, both of which
feature the term "advisor" heavily.
"Hopefully, over time, we'll see an increase in those
terminologies and 'travel advisor' ranking higher, but I also think that this
is going to require a shift from all of the industry players," she said.
Most are already onboard with the switch, but some, like
Avoya Travel, are going in a different direction.
Sam McCully, Avoya's senior vice president of marketing,
said the host agency still uses the term "travel agent" when
marketing its hosting services to the travel trade. It also uses internal terms
like "independent agency."
For consumers, Avoya tends to market with terms like "vacation
planner" or "vacation expert," but the host is still
experimenting with different terms. McCully said the term "travel advisor"
feels "more transactional to me."
"It is subjective, but I think terms like 'expert,' 'planner'
-- those, for us in our model, they exhibit a bit more value to the customer
who's trying to make a decision of, 'Hey, who do I book with here?'" he
said. "I think it works a little better with our messaging