A call for advisor advocacy

Jamie Biesiada

Advocacy is something that happens on a variety of levels in the travel agency community, from ASTA advocating for more agent-friendly policies on the federal level, all the way down to individual advisors advocating for themselves.

Indeed, every agent is an advocate for travel advisor use with the traveling public at large.

“We all play a role in that,” said Jackie Friedman, president of Nexion Travel Group. “We can certainly advocate through ASTA or through host agencies or different marketing programs, through consortia, through any of those organizations. But it starts with them.”

I caught up with Friedman after she won Travel Leaders Network’s Advocacy Award in May. It’s a new award for TLN, and Friedman is its first recipient. 

She reported being “shocked” by the award, especially as she didn’t know of its creation, but her resume certainly lends itself to the honor. Friedman is the chair of ASTA’s board of directors and is also on the Travel Institute’s board of trustees, the CLIA STARBoard, the board of directors for the Professional Association of Travel Hosts (PATH) and a number of supplier advisory boards.

Proud of advocacy efforts

According to Friedman, two of the advocacy achievements of which she’s most proud are making the government aware of the travel agency model and how agents are paid during the pandemic as well as some of her work with PATH (though, she offered the caveat that nothing is done alone and end goals are reached collectively, not individualistically).

Specifically, Friedman said she is proud of PATH’s work informing suppliers that their sales team compensation needs to be structured to motivate representatives to work with the hosted advisors living and working in their territories.

“They at one point didn’t want to touch them, because they weren’t getting revenue credit for any growth,” she said.

That segment — hosted advisors — is an important one, too.

“The host agency vertical, for lack of a better word, right now is the fastest growing channel in retail distribution,” Friedman said. “More and more people want to be travel advisors. And as we as leaders continue to talk about the value and benefit of a career in travel, I think all of those things have contributed to the growth of that segment.”

It’s a key segment for ASTA, which is currently in the midst of its “20 by 25” initiative to get 20,000 members by 2025. As of May, ASTA was about 4,000 members away from that goal.

Friedman wants advisors to join ASTA and get involved. It is the Society’s job, she said, to engage and retain members with events like its River Cruise Expo, Caribbean Showcase, local chapter meetings and beyond.

“We have to continue to tell that story,” she said. “We still have some work to do, but the association’s making some tremendous progress.”

Being a part of something

She encouraged advisors interested in joining ASTA to first take time to understand the Society and why it’s important to the trade, then join in the appropriate membership category (Friedman and several others were responsible for the independent contractor category of membership). Then, get involved, she said: Attend local chapter meetings, network with agencies in the area and talk about the benefits of membership with other advisors.

She also encouraged advisors to ensure they are advocates for themselves and their peers with the traveling public.

“They need to make themselves referrable,” she said. “They need to do what it takes to make themselves professional.”

One sentiment Friedman has heard “across the board” in conversations with agents is they’re hearing more from travelers who have never worked with an advisor before.

“[It] is a great thing,” she said, “and we want those folks who are coming to them for the first time to come back again, and again, and again. But that part is up to them.”

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