Travel Agents

Virtuoso MD and MTA co-founder reignite ‘agent’ vs ‘advisor’ debate

Christian Fleetwood

Christian Fleetwood

The ongoing debate over the value of the ‘agent’ and ‘advisor’ job title continues, with fresh calls for a change from Virtuoso and MTA – Mobile Travel Agents.

Virtuoso regional managing director and former Tourism Australia executive director Michael Londregan (pictured above) believes its high time travel agents were called advisors, a standard long held by the luxury travel network and in countries like the United States.

It’s an ongoing debate in Australia that resurfaces now and again. But the value of the title, Londregan maintains, its accuracy and the connotation it carries in the relationship between an ‘advisor’ and their customer is extremely important, and one that could be made to be “more accurate”.

“It’s an evolution,” he told Travel Weekly at the 20th anniversary conference of MTA – Mobile Travel Agents.

“This idea of having someone who can book travel for you, when you’ve got the internet and can book it yourself, is an old idea,” Londregan said. “But what isn’t an old idea is having someone who can have knowledgeable advice and help you throughout your experience.

“It’s just reusing better language to describe the new economy.”

Destination-focused travel “yesterday’s thinking”: MTA CEO

Tours and activities are the fastest growing vertical in tourism, with travel heading toward an experience-driven economy. This has seen sects of tourism like the US$4.5 trillion global wellness industry grow to represent a staggering 5.3 per cent of global economic output.

A shift toward more purposeful travel is also being driven by Millennials and Gen Z, as demographer Bernard Salt noted late last year.

The Virtuoso managing director also extends this idea of outdated thinking to agents who are destination-focused, a specialisation MTA CEO Don Beattie described as “yesterday’s thinking”.

“The reality is that travel agents used to walk in and have the Bali brochures, the Europe brochures – well, that’s a crappy idea,” Londregan told Travel Weekly.

“Really, what people are saying is ‘I’m interested in a culinary holiday’ or a ‘multi-generational family holiday’ [among others] … they actually have a concept more than a destination in mind.”

Londregan explained that the role of the professional has changed from one who books travel to one of a curator and designer of experiences – a position likewise maintained by MTA founder Karen Merricks.

In this vein, the job title ought to reflect the new functions of an ‘advisor’ of travel.

Image credit: MTA – Mobile Travel Agents/J&A Photography

“I think the connotation of that name is a big deal,” Merricks (pictured, right) told Travel Weekly. “An ‘agent’ is generally someone who middleman’s a product – travel agents are really advisors because we are there to ‘advise’ them [clients], and to support them in their travel decisions.”

In the United States, this same mode of thinking saw the former American Society of Travel Agents rebrand as the American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA), more than a year ago.

But other countries have been slow to adopt the standard, with neither the United Kingdom’s Association of British Travel Agents nor the Australian Federation of Travel Agents (AFTA) implementing it.

“I think that these guys [ASTA] are choosing the right words to more accurately describe what it is we’re doing in today’s environment,” Londregan said.

It is understood that MTA – Mobile Travel Agents has no plans to change its name to MTA – Mobile Travel Advisors at this stage.

Travel Weekly has contacted AFTA for comment.

Featured image: Michael Londregan at MTA 2020 conference (MTA – Mobile Travel Agents/J&A Photography)

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