Written By: Tom Ogg
NACTA, originally the National Association of Commissioned Travel Agents and later renamed the National Association of Career Travel Agents no longer exists.
I thought I would pay tribute to NACTA by documenting why it grew so quickly and became front page news virtually every week in the trade publications only to end up how it has.
The first thing we need to do is go over some travel industry history.
Prior to the Airline Deregulation Act that took full effect in 1981, the travel agent business was simply awesome. It was regulated by the CAB and the travel agent sales agreement with then ATC (Air Traffic Conference) and IATA (International Airline Transport Association). Agents were appointed by each organization and carried airline ticket stock and plates making commissions by selling airline tickets.
Airlines and travel agents enjoyed close relationships. A typical travel conference was a lavish event with the airlines hosting lavish meals with entertainment, hospitality suites and give-a-ways. Travel agents were awarded discounts on air as part of the Agency Sales Agreement.
During the late 1980s into the early 1990s the industry erupted into turmoil. The inflation of the early 1980s and the ability for low-yield short haul airlines to start up overnight seemingly without regulation created a profit squeeze on traditional storefront travel agencies resulting in many going out of business. This is when the move from a storefront brick and mortar location to a home based location first began.
But, it wasn’t until February of 1995 when Delta Airlines capped the commission that they paid to travel agents, that the handwriting on the wall became obvious. Small travel agencies had to reinvent themselves and the acceleration of agents closing their storefronts and heading to a home-base was surging.
Industry organizations such as ARC and ASTA did not recognize the paradigm and branded the new business model of home-based agencies as unprofessional.
At the very same time the MLM card mills were completely out of control and recruiting tens of thousands of “instant travel agents” who paid $495 to get a “travel agent ID card” that supposedly gave them great travel discounts.
Travel industry suppliers could not tell who were real travel agents and who were simply card mill agents looking for freebies.
1996 is when Joanie and I purchased a small association named NACTA from Donna Sherf in Texas. I had already written the book “How to Start a Home Based Travel Agency” and the task of leading the way for home-based travel professionals to differentiate themselves from card mill agents was under way.
Joel Ables, the publisher of Travel Trade Magazine, the travel industry’s oldest and most respected trade publication recognized the paradigm and formed a relationship with Joanie that lead to NACTA’s wild growth and credibility. Suppliers looked towards Joanie for direction on how to reach this new market channel. Joanie worked with so many companies who then created structure to accept this new breed of travel marketer.
Host agencies also recognized Joanie’s role in establishing credibility for real agents working from home and joined forces with NACTA to create distribution channels that suppliers could embrace.
By the year 2000 ASTA approached us with a good story and we sold NACTA to ASTA and Joanie stayed on as President of NACTA. During the following few years being a home-based travel agent matured and they found their proper place in the industry.
Travel suppliers evolved solutions for independent agents so that they could communicate and maintain relationships using technology. I so well remember a study that Royal Caribbean did on the various evolving distribution channels and found that the home-based travel agent channel produced the highest yield of them all.
Host agencies also evolved and provided their growing number of agents with all of the support, education, training and networking that agents used to count on from associations. In fact, host agencies did become strong organizations because of their ability to adapt to the rapidly changing marketplace.
By 2008 it became obvious that niche associations like NACTA, OSSN, NACOA and others were becoming less and less relevant as host agencies provided all of the functions that they once did and more.
Joanie resigned as the President of NACTA.
During the period from 1996 through 2008 Joanie was awarded many things like several “Lifetime Achievement Awards” from Travel Trade Magazine, Was awarded “100 Most Powerful Women in Travel” by Travel Agent Magazine several times, she was inducted into the “CLIA Hall of Fame” and won the “Travel Agent of the Year” award among many others.
Agents that went through this period will well remember the challenges home-based agents faced while making the transition and I suspect many still have little respect for those groups that refused to accept them as professionals.
So there you have it. NACTA played an important role in the evolution of travel professionals and it makes both Joanie and I proud to have been instrumental in those needed changes over our time with NACTA.