August 8, 2008
The Professional Association of Travel Hosts (PATH) is engaged in discussions with OSSN, NACTA and CLIA to determine areas of common interest, as part of its effort to set industry standards for Host agencies and advocate for their interests.
At its recent board meeting in Marina del Rey, CA, PATH appointed the Home-Based travel groups OSSN and NACTA as PATH Partners, reflecting the collaborative approach the group is taking.
PATH president Andi Mysza, of the California-based Host agency Montrose Travel, said, 'We are gaining visibility and currently have 18 Host agency members representing about 8,000 agents. We recently completed our 2008-09 business plan and are refocusing our energies on penetrating the eligible Host market to increase our membership and improve the awareness and visibility of PATH. We plan to execute the first ever Host Symposium during 2009 and hope this will become an annual event.'
She said that PATH, NACTA and OSSN 'all support the use of legitimate, reputable Host agencies and do not want to have agents or their clients hurt by poor quality hosts. PATH, by definition, serves as an information source for this purpose. Our Host membership criteria is quite stringent. Also, we all want to see agents properly educated so they can provide their clients with quality customer service and advice.'
All three organizations serve Home-Based agents, said Mysza and PATH is not a threat to OSSN and NACTA.
'OSSN and NACTA primarily serve their agent membership base, while PATH exclusively focuses on membership with Host agencies. We believe that working together will be mutually beneficial.'
One of the synergies in working together is featuring PATH-member Host agencies to OSSN and NACTA members seeking a reputable Host.
'PATH has already provided OSSN with website content about evaluating Host agencies, as well as a link to our member list. We are also working on incorporating a PATH logo to designate PATH members on the OSSN Host member list,' said Mysza.
'This will make the PATH members stand out. We are in discussions with NACTA about this type of content as well. In return, PATH is featuring both organizations on our Web site and recommends membership to our Host agency members and their agents.'
Mysza said that 'the CLIA conversation is in its infancy, but will probably revolve around education. We are extremely supportive of CLIA's recent efforts to modify their requirements to obtain a CLIA card. While probably not the primary intent, it should go a long way in taking away the reason for being for most MLMs and card mills.'
In addition to cross-industry collaboration, PATH intends to address common challenges that Host agencies face. These include fraud, errors and omissions insurance coverage, and local supplier DSM support no matter where the agent and Host are located, among others, noted Mysza.
Asked whether PATH plans to have a role with consumers, helping them to identify professional Home Based agents, or educating consumers and regulatory agencies about the difference between professionals and 'travel like a travel agent' agents, Mysza said:
'We have done our best to develop our definition of a Host agency. We believe that hosting standards need to be set in the industry; those standards basically match our membership criteria. There are so many different Host agency models in the market, as well as those companies trying to pass themselves off as Hosts which aren't, that it can become very confusing for someone trying to find a reputable Host with which to affiliate.'
She added that one of PATH's primary roles is to help agents determine how to properly evaluate a Host agency - 'to avoid aligning themselves unknowingly with a Host that doesn't meet our standards.'
'Further, we will work to educate agents who want to be hosted about the types of services that many Hosts offer. Keep in mind that our Host members operate very independently of one another and we all have different strengths as well as services. It's up to the agent to determine their needs, then use us as a resource to find a Host that's a good fit.'
Mysza said that consumer outreach is further down the road.
'We have decided, after much lively discussion, that we should take the proverbial 'high road' when it comes to making the distinction between legitimate Host agencies and the rest of the market. As a result, PATH doesn't dwell on the MLMs of the world. Rather, we emphasize the positives of being associated with a reputable Host. PATH's Hosts are considered the cream of the crop.'
Mysza added, 'Personally, I believe that the MLMs do a disservice to both their agents and their clients that can subsequently reflect negatively on all Hosts. It's incumbent on the suppliers to stop enabling the MLMs by allowing them to book at travel agent rates. CLIA has taken an important first step to modify their card requirements. Now, the suppliers need to do their part by not extending agent benefits to 'consumers.' If this happens, it will greatly clean up the market.'
At the recent meeting, the PATH board decided to limit membership to Host agencies and change the supplier membership category to that of supplier partners, because most Hosts do not have a need for incremental supplier training, since they have their own practices in place.
Attending the meeting were Mysza; Anita Pagliasso, Ticket to Travel, PATH first vice president and public relations/communication chairperson; Pam Miller, CTC, Magellan360, PATH second vice president and co-chair Supplier Relationship Committee; Betsy Geiser, Uniglobe Travel, PATH secretary and co-chair Host Membership Committee; Tony Gagliano, Travel Planners International, PATH treasurer and co-chair Host Membership Committee; and Jackie Friedman, Nexion, PATH board member and co-chair Supplier Relationship Committee.
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