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We Need to Talk

Travel planners, we need to talk. And it’s going to be a tough conversation.

I love travel and the impact it makes on people’s lives. I love the tourism industry and the people like you that make it run. I’m your biggest cheerleader. And because I care about you, I’m going to tell you some hard truths.

There are, unfortunately, some inconsiderate people in our industry — group leaders and tour operators misrepresent themselves, act unprofessionally, take advantage of suppliers, leverage relationships for favors and otherwise game the system. Though most of you are sincere, honest travel planners, there’s a minority — a very troubling minority — whose bad behavior reflects poorly on the industry as a whole.

This problem doesn’t exist solely among tour operators and group leaders. Legitimacy has been a big problem among travel agents and travel journalists for a long time, and the issue has only grown in the digital age.

Fortunately, however, legitimate travel planners can avoid many of the mistakes and missteps of imposters by following some simple best practices. If you want to stand out from the pack and build a great reputation in the industry, here are four principles that should guide you.


1) Be honest about your organization.

It’s always tempting to make ourselves and our organizations seem bigger, more successful or more important than they are. But exaggerating or misrepresenting the size of your group, the types of trips you take or the money you spend will always get you into trouble. Your partners and suppliers would much rather know the truth about your organization upfront than find out later that you are not what you claim to be. Honesty is always the best policy.


2) Honor your commitments.

One of the hallmarks of professionals is that they do the things that they say they will do. If you have signed up to attend a conference, a FAM tour or some other travel industry event, you should do everything in your power to attend. The people who organize these events spend a lot of time and money to create memorable and helpful experiences for you, and canceling at the last minute — or simply failing to show up — is incredibly disrespectful to them. You’re better than that.


3) Remember your manners.

Some travel planners behave like divas when they arrive at conferences, FAM tours and other events. They make unreasonable demands, complain loudly about things they don’t like, show up late, talk too much and make every moment about themselves. Even if these people are legitimate travel buyers who do lots of business, they drive everyone else crazy. Don’t be that person.


4) Don’t abuse your privileges.

Travel planners are treated well in the tourism industry. They get lots of free gifts, free meals, free drinks and even free trips. Everyone wants to be their friend because everyone wants to earn their business. These perks are attractive, but you should never accept free travel or other favors from people if you don’t intend to do business with them. If you take the perks without doing the work, you’re just a freeloader.


Whether you’re a part-time travel enthusiast or a full-time, professional operator, the tourism industry offers a wealth of opportunities. So strive to be a person worthy of the opportunities you’ve been given.

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.