TORONTO — So you’re finally ready to book that bucket-list trip you’ve spent years saving up for. Who do you turn to for help: a travel agent or a travel advisor?
Turns out, they are one and the same, at least from a consumer’s perspective. But ask an actual travel professional and they’ll tell you the two terms couldn’t be more different.
The divergence in terminology came to a head in 2018 when the American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA) launched a rebrand that replaced the term ‘travel agent’ with ‘travel advisor,’ based on the fact that their role and responsibilities are no longer simply transactional.
Following ASTA’s rebrand, ACTA (Association of Canadian Travel Agencies) here in Canada researched the terminology in late 2019 and found that although ‘travel agent’ was more commonly used at that time, ‘travel advisor’ was becoming increasingly popular.
“At that time, some travel agency owners and travel agents preferred to use the terminology of travel agent because A) They liked the term, and B) They preferred to make it clear that travel agents are ‘agents’ of a travel supplier from a legal perspective,” says Wendy Paradis, President of ACTA.
“With the emergence of the pandemic in early 2020, and government advocacy for financial support, ACTA intentionally continued to use the terminology ‘travel agent’ since this was the terminology government was most familiar with,” she adds.
However, in 2022, Paradis notes that most organizations associated with the United States, “for example, consortia and travel suppliers,” are now using the term ‘travel advisor,’ along with many Canadian travel agents. She adds that other popular terms in Canada include ‘travel consultant,’ ‘travel counsellor’ and ‘travel specialist.’
When asked whether the terminology actually makes a difference in the way consumers view travel agents, Paradis says that over time, it will.
“Evolving to the terminology ‘advisor’ seems to be becoming common in other industries as well, such as Financial Advisor, Insurance Advisor and Real Estate Advisor. But I do notice that many organizations in these industries continue to use both, like Insurance Agent and Real Estate Agent,” she adds.
With both terms being used simultaneously, Travelweek took the question directly to travel professionals hemselves: how do they prefer to be known – travel agent, or travel advisor?
Laurie Keith, President of Boutique Travel Services, says that the majority of her American travel agent friends refer to themselves as ‘travel advisors,’ however, she still refers to herself as a ‘professional travel agent.’
“This is what I’ve been for over 25 years and this is what Canadian consumers understand best. I’ve heard of other titles like ‘dream-maker,’ ‘travel consultant’ and ‘travel concierge,’ but I think they all still point back to our core business – being a travel agent.”
Keith notes that although today’s travel agent offers professional and expert advice, “we still act as an agent, securing travel arrangements for our clients through third party travel suppliers, much the same way since the first travel agency started in 1865 under Thomas Cook.”
Lise Archambault, Travel Agent & Cruise Centre – TravelPlus in Ottawa, ON, also agrees, telling Travelweek that the way she prefers to be recognized is the same way she’s listed below her signature – Travel Agent.
“I am a TICO-certified agent, which means I have licence to book travel, not just give advice or guidance, something already clearly in my repertoire,” says Archambault. “Let’s say you were moving to Ottawa. I could give you advice and guide you to a great neighbourhood, but I can’t sell you a house. That’s the distinction for me. As an agent, I have the credentials to close the deal.”
Though both Archambault and Keith make valid points, the vast majority of travel professionals Travelweek reached out to prefer to be called ‘travel advisor.’ Here’s what they had to say:
Heidi Hurst, Lead Travel Agent and Adventure Travel Specialist, Hideaway Travel, Calgary, AB
“I don’t mind the difference between travel agent and travel advisor. With the idea of ‘travel advisor,’ it maybe places more emphasis on what it is that we do, because we do give a lot of advice. And with ‘travel agent,’ it seems to be more about just taking a booking. But I don’t like when people use the term ‘travel advisor’ to justify their fees. “it’s not posh, it’s not grandiose. It doesn’t change anything, but I think sometimes it changes the way people think about you.”
Scott Penney, Travel Advisor, The Travel Agent Next Door, Stewiacke, NS
“I prefer travel advisor. The main difference between the two is the level of service you provide to your client. As travel advisors, we are not order takers, and even though our clients are much more educated, they have more questions, need more advice and more recommendations than ever before since so much has changed over the last couple of years. Our roles are so much more now than just pushing a button, and files are way more complicated than in the past.”
Joanne Saab, Travel Advisor, Curated Travel, Ancaster, ON
“I prefer travel advisor or, given my business name, I often refer to myself as a Travel Curator as really this is what I’m doing for my clients – curating unique itineraries and trips. But I definitely prefer travel advisor over travel agent. ‘Travel agent’ infers a simple transactional process. You are an agent or a seller of a specific travel product – full stop. ‘Travel advisor’ is a more inclusive term for the services we provide. It also infers there is some sort of relationship that exists between the travel advisor and the client, which is true.”
Brenda Slater, Beyond the Beach, Tiny, ON
“I prefer to go by travel advisor – or independent travel advisor – although my business card says ‘travel concierge’ because that is how I prefer to work with clients. The difference is, a travel agent is someone who is more of an order taker, usually new, usually sticks to selling all-inclusives and pre-packaged tours. A travel advisor is capable of more. They have usually done extensive training and research and are capable of assisting with independent travel.”
Cindy Gaudet, COO, Fareconnect.com
“Over the last few years, we feel our title has definitely become more as a ‘travel advisor.’ There is a lot more advice and preparation involved now in sending clients on their travels. Travel advisors play a very important role in the development and growth in the tourism industry now. We have educated ourselves on a whole new level.”
Marilyn Stainer, Cruise and Travel Consultant, Burnaby, BC
“I would definitely prefer travel advisor. To me a travel agent is an order taker and only books exactly what is requested and nothing more. A travel advisor does just that – advises. Before booking or making any suggestions, we ask many questions to see what the best fit would be for the client and may suggest upgrades that the client may not even know is available. We have done a lot of travelling so we have firsthand knowledge of a resort, cruise or tour package to make suggestions for our clients that they will enjoy.”
Gary Rams, Soft Adventure Specialist, Independent – Crowfoot Travel Solutions, Calgary, AB
“When clients think of me I try to have them think of the term ‘Soft Adventure Specialist.’ For some clients, I would like them to refer to me as a travel advisor. How clients see us is very important. The term ‘travel agent’ reminds me of where we were years ago – an agent for airlines and tour operators. The term ‘travel advisor’ is more in line of working for clients. We advise the best value and experiences.”
Tony Santelli, Senior Travel Advisor, FunRexAlcyon Travel, Laval, QC
“Definitely travel advisor. In fact, I usually add ‘Senior Travel Advisor’ after my name. The reader will either think I’m old or that I have many years of experience in the travel industry. They would be right on both counts. The term ‘agent’ today sounds archaic. It was used when one was a ticket agent such as an airline ticket, rail ticket agent and passenger ship ticket agent. One need only see the work performed by travel advisors during the pandemic and we can all be proud of having been ‘advisors’ to our clients.”
Marianne Vogel, Just for You Travel & Consulting, Dundas, ON
“I like to be referred to as a travel advisor because that means long term. I want to serve my clients long term, not just a one-time deal. A travel agent means an order taker in my book, and you are only working for the supplier, whereas an advisor works for the clients and the suppliers who are offering their properties. I care about my clients’ trips, interview them to find out their likes and dislikes, and try to advise them on the best places to go that reflects their wants and needs.”
Carol Murray, President, Your Vacation Home, Concord, ON
“I definitely prefer travel advisor over travel agent. I would even add a ‘professional’ in front to make it ‘Professional Travel Advisor.’ The term ‘agent’ may incorrectly imply that you are simply a ‘booker’ of travel, like someone at a help-desk. Advisors, on the other hand, are there through the whole process, including when the client is in destination and upon their return.”
Valerie Murphy, Travel Advisor, Vision Travel, Waterloo, ON
“I might be a little old school as I am used to being called a travel agent, but I think ‘advisor’ does describe what we do, rather than ‘agent.’ An ‘agent’ makes me think of a ticketing agent just running off tickets, when in reality we are advising clients on all aspects of their travel – documentation requirements, health requirements, giving options on hotels, resorts, locations and more.”
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