Sarah Oliver, Ellie Godfrey, Ryan Fayle, Samantha Price
Determining Current Understanding and Awareness Levels of Sustainable Tourism Amongst Travel Agents
The duties of a travel agent can range from facilitating the sale of a package and initiating the flow of payment through the distribution system to providing assistance in selecting a destination (Pearce, 2008). Despite the increasing use of online travel agents (OTA’s), retail and business travel agents still hold their value in the travel and tourism industry, mainly as informational agents and administrative council. Pearce and Schott (2005) suggest that while websites may provide a range of information, they do not offer the valuable advice that individuals seek from travel agents. As individuals and businesses are still actively seeking out advice from travel agents in the booking process, their role in determining the fate of destinations and the tourism industry in general is apparent. The purpose of this study is to assess the level of awareness and knowledge travel agents in Toronto have regarding sustainable tourism, as well as if and how it factors into the selling process amongst clients. This study will provide insight into how travel agents receive and administer information about sustainability in addition to providing recommendations to create a more sustainable tourism industry. Inductive, exploratory qualitative interviews were conducted with 13 travel agents located in the City of Toronto. Qualitative interviews were chosen over other methods in order gain greater insight and depth into the differences of each respondent’s opinions on the subject matter. The findings from the interviews determined that there is a lack of sustainability knowledge amongst travel agents, regardless of age, education level, or income. Information regarding sustainability is being provided to agents by suppliers rather than the organizations they work for and there is a lack of client demand for sustainable tourism products. Travel agents are displacing the accountability of sustainable practices onto travellers and suppliers. Travel agents believe that they have persuasive power in the decision-making process, but do not utilize this for promoting sustainable tourism. This exploratory study provides insight into travel agents and their ability to influence decisions of their customers. Recommendations to increase the sustainability knowledge of travel agents include providing training and education through governing bodies such as the Travel Industry Council of Ontario and the Association of Corporate Travel Agents. In addition, travel agents should have tools to work with clients to promote sustainable destinations/products. Suppliers should also be encouraged to provide sustainability information to travel agents as customers/businesses are requesting such knowledge. The retail and corporate travel agent industry has an opportunity to become a leader in sustainable tourism efforts. By becoming a leader in positive growth for all stakeholders involved, travel agencies are able to benefit both financially as well as retaining their image as experts of all tourism products.