Professional organizations can be a vital aspect of your business, especially if you are new to being a travel agent. These consortiums work to support, educate and organize travel professionals, which often results in meaningful networking for advisors and an enhanced client experience. But what does it mean to be part of a travel trade and how do you choose the right fit?
There are numerous affiliations that represent a wide range of specialties, geographies and other characteristics of your agency. For example, the Black Travel Alliance supports Black travel professionals in education, media and corporate positions. However, there are a handful of major organizations that most travel agents subscribe to, depending on their focus.
The following are five of the top travel advisor trades and what you should know about them before joining.
If you sell travel in the United States, you should consider joining the American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA). Originally founded in 1931, this association continues to be a global advocate for travel agencies. Based just outside Washington D.C., ASTA has the resources to represent the industry across the hospitality sector as well as in the political forum. In addition to training and education support, ASTA hosts several major annual conferences and events where advisors can convene to discuss travel trends and best practices.
Annual ASTA events include a River Cruise Expo; Caribbean Showcase; Premium Business Summit; and the ASTA Travel Advisor Conference. There are also many chapter events open to participation, as well as webinars.
Working in conjunction with organizations like the World Committee on Tourism Ethics (WCTE), the Wildlife Trafficking Alliance and the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation in Travel and Tourism, ASTA has developed its own code of conduct. Using an ASTA affiliation as a badge of integrity, any travel advisor trade members are expected to follow the ASTA Code of Ethics.
Membership rates vary but start at $228 per year for an individual membership. Resources include “Travel Advisor,” ASTA’s member magazine; newsletters; guides; research and trend reports; and other tools to effectively run your business.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) aims to simplify and improve the relationship between travel agencies and airlines to better serve customers. IATA boasts 50 years of experience brokering between airlines and agencies; a network of 70,000 agents and more than 400 airlines worldwide; and 207 countries served.
By becoming a qualified IATA-accredited travel agent, you can boost credibility with clients as well as streamline certain services and even find opportunities for higher commissions. There are three levels of accreditation and the first only takes 25 days to complete.
Closely affiliated is IATAN, or the International Airlines Travel Agent Network. This designation is available to agents and agencies based in the United States. Plus, the IATA/IATAN card comes with a ton of perks and incentives for travel advisors, as well as daily savings at more than 300,000 merchants across North America.
To become IATA/IATAN affiliated, complete and submit an accreditation application. Within the U.S., a new ID card costs $40, while a renewal is $35.
The Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) was founded in 1975 as a global trade association and remains an important tool for advisors who sell cruises. In joining CLIA, cruise and travel agents can benefit from professional development —including the latest on maritime policy and government affairs; commissions and travel perks; access to cruise line and destination representatives; and up-to-date cruise news.
CLIA also hosts conferences including CLIA 360, held annually in Fort Lauderdale, as well as webinars and virtual summits. Whether you are a new agent or have sold hundreds of cruises, CLIA offers a certification. This certification program instills trust in clients that they are working with a certified cruise professional.
Member fees vary, depending on whether you are part of a larger agency, but an individual CLIA membership costs $129 for one year. Members must adhere to a CLIA code of ethics and well as their terms and conditions.
Travel Retailer Universal Enumeration — or TRUE — is managed by the CCRA (Computerized Corporate Rate Association) Travel Commerce Network. Claiming to have outgrown its acronym since its inception in 1974, TRUE/CCRA is a collection of travel professionals who offer other advisors booking tools, call center solutions, marketing programs, education/training and more.
Work toward a TRUE accreditation, recommended for advisors with a minimum of six months of selling travel. The accreditation benefits up to 25 advisors at a host agency and costs $399 per year. Or, for $39 per month, join the Travel Advisors Global Network (TAGN), which offers amenity programs; “top tier” commissions on many suppliers; chapter meetings; email, CRM and social media marketing; education and webinars; and more.
PowerSolutions live events are held throughout the year and across the country, inviting suppliers from across the industry to connect with agents in an intimate setting. The site’s travel agent blog is also a great free resource.
Boasting more than 50 years in the industry, the Travel Institute is a go-to resource for travel agent training and certifications. It’s also a great place to start if you’re only beginning of thinking about becoming a travel advisor. An “Introduction to a Travel Career” webinar is hosted for free on the Travel Institute’s website, along with plenty of other resources.
Available through the Travel Institute is accreditations at all levels, beginning with the TAP or Travel Agent Proficiency test through a CTIE or Certified Travel Industry Executive. There are even tests and training designed for specialties, whether they are destinations or niches.
An annual subscription to the Travel Institute with basic member access is $95, while a premium yearly membership costs $199. Premium members have access to everything in a basic membership plus niche market courses; financial planning programs, discounts on products and testing, as well as a library of white papers.
Differences between an IATA/IATAN and CLIA card
Between these two card-carrying organizations, a common question is what are the primary differences?
IATA/IATAN is the only globally recognized industry credential for travel professionals, making it an easy choice with broad appeal. This card has extensive recognition and can be used to benefit the agent personally, from family trips to the aquarium to up to 30 percent of thousands of hotels. Plus, all cardholders a basic travel insurance policy plus half off any IATA training course.
The CLIA EMBARC ID is the official credential of the global cruise industry, so a must for agents specializing in cruise vacations. Cardholders have access to CLIA cruise line and partner commissions as well as discounted event rates and other member perks, like a 20 percent discount on select sightseeing and dining cruise held by Hornblower’s City Cruises for physical card-carrying members.
Pricing quoted in this article are based on a publication date of November 16, 2023.