When I was pregnant with my first daughter in 1992, I remember sitting for my CTC exam, and my sweet proctor was knitting a blanket for her. I still have the blanket, well-worn and well-loved – and my CTC – equally worn and loved. Nearly 20 years ago the career path of any travel professional with an eye on management or an executive level position included certification from The Travel Institute. It was a given. Oh, how things have changed. There are a lot of bright shiny objects in our industry – and the path to certification, and the career prestige it meant that was once so clear to me isn’t so clear anymore. Our mission is to change that.
Recently Tony Gonchar, the CEO of ASTA, gave an interview to Travel Market Report discussing the successes and challenges that ASTA faces. At The Travel Institute, we face much of the same challenges; the most crucial one being, in a word, relevance. Gonchar discusses it in the last point of his interview:
ASTA stands for the American Society of Travel Agents, but a lot of people think the term travel agent is passé and should be retired. Will ASTA ever weigh in on the debate?
Gonchar: I think we will. We’ve already spoken about this at our board level. It’s very easy to swap out the vernacular as I’m doing in our conversation; I can say agent then advisor; I can decide we’re going to change the name in ASTA from Agent to Advisor.
But it really means nothing at the end of the day, unless there is some bar that an agent needs to jump over in order to become an advisor.
This comes down to the concept of accreditation, certification. With almost any other professional industry, there are accreditation hurdles before someone can take on a (professional) label. We have the Travel Institute hurdles as they relates to things like CTAs. But very few people are pursuing that these days.
The industry is crying for some level definition. ASTA would very much like to participate or perhaps lead the charge on what those definitions are. That’s something for the board of directors to work out, and I, as their CEO, to execute.
Wait. What was that again?
I had to re-read that bit about “very few people are pursuing their CTA these days” and “the industry is crying for some level definition and that ASTA wanted to participate or lead the charge on what those definitions are.”
In fact, I had to read it a few times, and then go have a pumpkin spice latte, and then come back and read it again. Yep, there it was. It still read the same, and I wasn’t a fan of the message. So, I penned a response to the author, Dori Saltzman:
I read the great article you did with Tony Gonchar – but I’d like to point out a correction – In his last point he says, “We have the Travel Institute hurdles as they relates to things like CTAs. But very few people are pursuing that these days.”
At The Travel Institute, we’d like to report that enrollments in our Certification Programs – Certified Travel Associate (CTA), Certified Travel Counselor (CTC) and Certified Travel Industry Executive (CTIE) are very strong for 2011, and we’re looking at an even stronger 2012 as we roll out more benefits for certified travel professionals and our valued members. We’re delighted that our students are committed to showing their clients, suppliers and colleagues that they value professionalism at the highest level, and certification matters.
Our members and industry partners have lauded the enhancements and changes we made in 2011 including adding a new online university (Communiversity) with over 1200 courses in technology, social media, marketing, sales, customer service and business, as well as introducing a more formalized Professional Educators Program, bringing the best and brightest minds together in one place to educate and stimulate lively exchanges of ideas and best practices through webinars, podcasts, blog posts, forum discussions and whitepapers. In addition, in January 2012 our entire catalog of Lifestyle Specialist and Destination Specialist courses will be online and included in our Premium Membership category, making them more accessible and available than ever before.
In short, we’re STILL the education and certification destination for travel professionals – agents, entrepreneurs, suppliers and executives from all corners of our industry.
We agree, as Mr. Gonchar concludes, that there is a need for continued consumer education and awareness that the certified retail travel professional is alive and well, and has been transformed from the “order-taker” of yesterday to the savvy marketer, communicator, information-sifter and trusted key resource of today’s traveler, both now and in the future. We would welcome ASTA’s partnership and assistance as The Travel Institute continues to lead that charge, as we have since 1964 when The Travel Institute was founded.
First, let me address the elephant in the room. The Travel Institute, like ASTA and other associations have reported drops in overall membership numbers in recent years. I can only speculate on a few factors in our case – an aging and retiring membership, an overall decline in the industry, the economy and most importantly a perceived loss of relevance.
As I reiterate to Ms. Saltzman, however, and to paraphrase Mark Twain, “Rumors of our Demise Have Been Exaggerated.”
2012 looks to be one for the books, and that’s not hyperbole. At our recent staff gathering in Las Vegas we met as a team to map out our strategy and finalize our budget. I have to be honest, I’m giddy.
We’ve got the right team, the right technology and the right processes in place. We took 2011 to refine our core structure and we’re ready to get out there and show off this shiny new “startup” – founded in 1964. In 2012, we’re focusing on what we do best.
- Providing top-notch education through Communiversity reaching a broader audience through our partnerships with groups and associations.
- Growing and expanding our Professional Educators’ Program, providing coaching and networking with the highest caliber of travel entrepreneur and executives in the industry.
- Revising, updating and distributing our own curriculum - Lifestyle Specialist and Destination Specialist Courses – through Communiversity – and including the curriculum for free in Premium Membership.
- Helping insure the next generation of travel professional is well prepared through our licensed schools and textbook programs.
- Educating and Certifying Travel Associates, Counselors and Executives, and helping them reach and retain lucrative clientele.
Of course, our underlying mission remains to serve our members, however we can. I couldn’t have predicted nearly 20 years ago when I was finishing my CTC that I would be here, having joined this team at such an exciting time, but here we are, and here I am, ready to show our industry that we’re indeed, more relevant than ever.
I wish you a prosperous, blessed and joyous new year! Please let me know how we can serve you in 2012 and beyond in the comments!