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Whatever happened to ‘travel advisors’?

July 19, 2019 Headline News 1 Comment Email Email

The term “travel advisor”, once seen as the successor of “travel agent”, has failed to catch on with the public – in the US, in Australia, in Britain, or anywhere else.

It’s almost a year since the former American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) rebranded to become the American Society of Travel Advisors – but despite lots of hype, the term has failed to gain traction and “travel agent” still reigns supreme.

This January, ASTA was prodding and begging the US travel industry to fall into line and start using the new name, having itself switched to the term “advisors” last August.

In an open letter, ASTA pleaded: “It is critical that all industry stakeholders speak with one voice when it comes to describing our business.

A small US travel agency. Sells travel – and everything else

“To that end, we are encouraging our member companies, supplier partners and anyone doing meaningful business through the travel advisor channel to add their name to the growing list of organizations that have made or are in the process of making the switch from “travel agent” to “travel advisor” in their consumer and trade communications.”

Despite those attempts, “travel advisor” appears to have fallen flat. In Australia, the US and Britain, “travel agent” is still the term used overwhelmingly.

Is the term “travel agent” dated? It predates this wartime poster, displayed in a travel agency window at London’s Victoria Coach Station, around 1939. Brochures in the window advertise cruise lines and Imperial Airways (an early British commercial long-range airline) with the motto: “Everyone flies nowadays”. 


Google Trends, which measures terms that the public searches for, shows that “travel agent” has remained about 10 times more popular than “travel advisor” throughout the past year. “Travel advisor” is not gaining any ground. It is flatlining – and it’s the same in all countries.

Some in the trade prefer “advisor” because they say it “more accurately describes the value our members provide to consumers and is a distinct declaration of who we work for: the travelling public” – to quote ASTA president, Zane Kerby.

Yet, with online business and search engine optimisation increasingly important, “travel agent” is the term that drives the online traffic. It’s what the public looks for.

Below: STATE COMPARISON IN AUSTRALIA over the past year. Use of the terms “travel agent” (in red) vs “travel advisor” in blue. Source: Google Trends


As a search term, “travel agent” has consistently ranked far higher than “travel advisor” for the past 15 years, which is when Google began tracking search terms with Google Trends. That doesn’t look set to change anytime soon.

The Australian Federation of Travel Agents (AFTA) has no plans to change its name.

AFTA chief executive, Jayson Westbury, acknowledges that American trends tend to catch on in Australia, but says “travel agent” has a firm place in the public mind.

Below: IN THE USA over the past year. Use of the terms “travel agent” (in red) vs “travel advisor” (in blue). Source: Google Trends

Westbury doesn’t completely rule out a name change, but not in the foreseeable future.

“Not now, but not never!” is his verdict.


BELOW: IN THE UK over the past year. Use of the terms “travel agent” (in red) vs “travel advisor” (in blue). Source: Google Trends


The Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) has no plans to change its name either.

The term “travel agent” was first used in 1925. The American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) was founded in 1931 under the title American Steamship and Tourist Agents’ Association, back in the days when air travel was in its infancy. ASTA switched to its “travel agent” name in the late 1940s, a decision that popularised the term “travel agent” around the world.

Below: IN AUSTRALIA over the past year. Use of the terms “travel agent” (in red) vs “travel advisor” (in blue). Source: Google Trends


Alliances like the Australian Federation of Travel Agents (AFTA, founded in 1957) and the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA, founded in 1950) follow similar lines and have similar names.

Written by Peter Needham

Currently there is "1 comment" on this Article:

  1. Alan Bowen says:

    More than 10 years ago the Association of British Travel Agents changed its name to simply ABTA Ltd, reflecting that most of its income came from tour operators rather than agents and in an attempt to suggest members were more than just agents for others. Whether in the media or elsewhere, even its own members forget and remind people to book with a member of the Association of British Travel Agents. Once a name is established, and ABTA was formed in 1955, it is virtually impossible to get consumers, never mind the members, to change what they think an organisation is called!

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