Woman's Day to work with ASTA after uproar over story

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A petition on Change.org calling on Woman's Day to retract an online story about travel agents that angered many agents has garnered more than 1,200 signatures by Wednesday afternoon, up from 100 signatures just a day earlier. 

The petition was the latest development in a number of industry efforts to counter the negative story. 

ASTA said Wednesday it is having talks with the magazine about ways the publication can work with ASTA on travel stories in the future, including a story in which travel agents will help families plan dream trips. 

The discussions follow an uproar among agents over a story posted on the Woman's Day website titled "Ten Things a Travel Agent Won't Tell You." 

ASTA said that in response to the article it sent Woman's Day a counter-article titled "Eight Reasons Why Booking With a Travel Professional Creates Value," arguing that agents are advocates for their customers, provide expert guidance and personalized service. (Read ASTA's complete response here.)

"We got an immediate response to it," said John Pittman, ASTA's vice president for industry and consumer affairs.

He said that Woman's Day senior editor Meredith Bodgas contacted ASTA and said that the magazine wanted to work with Society on future stories. One upcoming story, for example, will pair travel agents with real families to help them plan their dream vacation, Pittman said.

Woman's Day has not responded to email and phone calls from Travel Weekly seeking comments on the article or the response to it.

Agents, suppliers and consultants posted their support of travel agents on the Woman's Day website.

Vicki Freed, senior vice president of Royal Caribbean Cruise Line, expressed her disappointment on the Woman's Day website.

"Plain and simple, this is irresponsible 'journalism'," she wrote. "Your quick and easy fluff piece is filled with damaging allegations about a highly dedicated group of individuals."

Freed said that she has worked with travel agents for 30 years.

"Travel advisors are not vindictive, money hungry, misleading people as your article portrays them to be," she wrote. "Anyone who operated in that way would not last a day in this field. Travel agents are fueled by a passion for serving others."

Henry Hartevelt, industry analyst for Hudson Crossing, posted that the article contained many "factual errors." He said that, contrary to what the article said, travel agents have access to all published fares and rates and some have access to content that is not broadly available.

"It's disappointing to see Woman's Day publish such a poorly researched article," he wrote.

Arvid Olson, owner of Travel Leaders in Jacksonville, Fla., said that his wife would no longer buy the magazine because "she feels she cannot trust any article that you write now."

And Deanna Byrne, president of Destination Experts, devoted her blog talk radio show to going through the points of the article and debunking them.

In the meantime, Woman's Day modified the story in response to hundreds of negative comments from irate agents. For one thing, the magazine changed the title (and content), to "9 Things Travel Agents Won't Tell You." It removed a paragraph asserting agents won't tell consumers that airline tickets can be cheaper when booked on Tuesdays and that it can be cheaper to fly on certain days of theweek because lower fares mean agents earn lower commissions from airlines. Airlines quit paying agents across-the-board commissions nearly 20 years ago and usually do not pay any commission on domestic tickets.

Woman's Day also added a comment thanking "hard-working travel agents who provided feedback on this story."

It turns out that the story is not a new one. It also appeared last October on Yahoo!'s Work + Money page, which credited Woman's Day for the content. 

The author of the article, Anne Roderique-Jones, is a freelance writer who covers fashion, travel, lifestyle, food and nightlife and weddings, according to her website

Follow Kate Rice on Twitter @krtravelweekly.

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