Written By: Jason Coleman, CTC, ECC, CLS, LCS, DS, Business Development Manager/MentorU Coach, UNIGLOBE Travel Center
Travel Professional. It is a phrase that is often heard in our circles. But have you ever given it much thought? What exactly does it mean to be a travel professional?
A formal definition of the term professional is a person “competent in a particular activity engaged as one’s main paid occupation rather than as a pastime.” I have actually heard many travel agents imply something very different when they use the term travel professional (but that is an entirely different topic!). You could say that we are all professionals working in the travel industry. By the definition, pilots, hotel housekeepers, cruise entertainers, and travel agency accountants are also travel professionals. What makes us unique or different?
In my day job, I am a business development coach at UNIGLOBE Travel Center. I am also an Associate Professor of Hospitality and Tourism-Travel at West Los Angeles College. I absolutely love what I do, so am going to draw on my roots as a teacher and ask you to take a quiz. It is the quiz of professionalism – specifically Travel Professionalism. Thankfully, there is no credit being given out here, so please be honest with yourself.
Many people these days are calling themselves travel professionals. From my experience, being a professional goes beyond just getting paid for the work you do. I believe there are actually four criteria necessary to call someone a professional. Here is a quiz I developed to evaluate whether you are really a professional in the travel industry, so let’s get started.
You are a professional if you are engaged in ongoing continuing education. Question one is: Do you regularly enhance and develop your skills and knowledge with continuing education?
There is no shortage of training and education opportunities in the travel industry. Suppliers, associations, and industry groups all have very good programs to help you develop your skills and knowledge. Some are even quite robust. But this information is only good when you use or act on it. Taking courses for the sake of a certification logo is a wasted opportunity. How are you using the knowledge you take away from these programs?
The very fact that you are investing your time to read this article and this publication demonstrates that you value continuing education, so I feel very safe in saying you deserve credit for this first question. Way to go – you’re 25% of the way there!
You are a professional if you abide by your industry’s code of ethics or code of conduct. Now I would be shocked if anyone would ever admit publicly to conducting their business in an unethical manner. Nevertheless, question number two is: Do you subscribe to and support our industry’s code of ethics?
The travel agent’s code of ethics includes broad topics like accuracy, disclosure, confidentiality, conflict of interest, and compliance. I encourage everyone here to look it up and see if you agree and can comply with the principles it outlines.
Beyond just agreeing and complying with this code, have you considered using it with your clients or in your marketing? What about including it in your next newsletter or sending it out as a special notice to remind your clients about your values? This code of ethics is one point of differentiation between you and some competitors, so talk about it with a sense of pride.
You are a professional if you are a member of your profession’s trade association. I should be clear up front. ARC, IATA, CLIA, your consortia, and your host agency are not trade associations. They are all important groups to be a part of, but they are not trade associations. Generically, trade associations are organized and governed by members of that profession to represent, promote, and lobby on behalf of the industry. Most associations do a lot more than that, but those are the big essentials. So, the question is — are you a member of your trade association?
If you are not, why not? How can you call yourself a professional and yet not support the industry that supports you? Membership is a mark of your professionalism, and it is essential for an industry to survive and thrive. If you are a member of your trade association, give yourself credit for number three. And if not, it is something you need to take care if you consider yourself a travel professional.
Ok, last question. I won’t ask how you’re doing so far, but I hope there are a lot of 3 out of 4’s so far!
You are a professional if you give back to your industry or profession on a regular basis. Question four is this: Do you give back to the travel industry?
I really must elaborate on what I think each and every one of us should be doing to give back.
I am very passionate about recruiting and mentoring new travel agents. It is not only my job, it is a mission of mine. When I was “young” enough to qualify, I was very active in ASTA’s Young Professionals Society, even serving as its president for several years. Now, I do this every day by coaching new agents at UNIGLOBE and teaching students at West Los Angeles College. In both of those roles, I share what I have learned in my business and mentor new agents who want to work in travel. What are you doing to recruit and bring new travel agents into our industry?
When I ask you if you are regularly contributing and giving back to your industry, this is one area where you can make a significant impact. Mentor a young new agent. Hire someone who has a passion for travel you think might make a great travel agent. Talk positively about our industry and encourage others to research and explore making it their career. I hope you will join me and make it your mission to give back by recruiting and mentoring new travel professionals to our industry.
At the end of all that, I hope you can call yourself a travel professional with confidence! Travel professionals are those who scored 4 out of 4 on my no-credit quiz – those who regularly engage in continuing education, who abide by and support the industry’s code of conduct, who are members of their trade association, and who regularly give back to the profession.
Are YOU a travel professional?