Role has become a specialism, like accountancy or finance, says Sharon Munro, chief executive of Barrhead Travel

At the Asta Global Convention in Washington DC in August, the American Society of Travel Agents (Asta) proudly changed its name to the American Society of Travel Advisors.

The thinking behind this, they say, is that “travel agents are not just booking agents any more, but trusted advisors – akin to financial advisors and accountants – who make the overall travel experience better and get leisure and business travellers maximum value for their travel money”.

At the same time, the rebrand extended to the National Association of Career Travel Agents, which was renamed the Asta Small Business Network to focus on the advisors who work as independent contractors.

Together, these two organisations cemented the term ‘advisor’ at the heart and soul of the American travel industry. More exciting still is the fact that the travelling public is embracing this shift from agent to advisor.

Positive force

What strikes me about this is that Asta has taken the consumer on the rebranding journey. It reflects the manner in which we as an industry have evolved to service our clients – encapsulating the expertise, diligence and passion that we offer.

It got me thinking. Could this work in the UK travel industry and be a positive force for how our industry is perceived?

Asta is different to Abta. The Asta membership is aimed primarily at individuals in the travel industry (as well as travel companies), whereas Abta is mainly focused on businesses and the standards and practices of the membership.

The travel industry in the UK has changed dramatically over the past few years and, nowadays, homeworkers and independent advisors are an increasingly significant part of the workforce. This is because of the demand for their skills, whether employed or self-employed.

In other words, what has already happened in America is happening here in the UK today.

Demand for expertise

At Barrhead Travel we have always promoted the experience and first‑hand knowledge of our consultants as one of our unique selling points, and by doing so we have benefited with some fantastic bookings and high levels of repeat customers.

Travel is a people business and I do not see the internet, artificial intelligence or machine learning ever replacing the experienced travel consultant. The more we can satisfy the travelling public’s insatiable demand for expertise and personal service, the stronger the profession will be. This fits very nicely with the concept of focusing on the advisors who are the heart and soul of our industry here.

Abta used to be called the Association of British Travel Agents, but in 2007 it changed its tagline to The Travel Association. Maybe it should have been changed to the Association of British Travel Advisors then, but I don’t think it is too late.

Why not give this concept a thought and toast the skills of all the unsung travel advisors who have lifted our profession to new heights? Let us shout their praises loudly at every opportunity. ‘To the Travel Advisors!’