Travel Agents: Allies Who are Wise to Us

Why use a travel agent?

Tripology offers an exhaustive answer in 101 Reasons to Use A Travel Agent the first five reasons listed being:

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1. Convenient One-Stop Shopping

2. Consumer Advocate 

3. Expert Guidance 

4. Save Time

5. Choice


In Forbes Larry Olmsted suggests in Why You Need A Travel Agent, Part 1:

 .the bottom line is that they know more than you do, they are better connected than you, they have access to benefits you can't get otherwise, they can often beat any other prices available (even online, yes), and after you have planned everything, they provide a safety net during your trip that you simply won't get by booking yourself or buying insurance. 


I want to propose a different approach. It borrows an idea from the GLBT community as interpreted by the sociologist, Erving Gofman.

Gofman wrote on the concept of stigmatization. A stigma is a way of marking an individual or group with an wanted set of characteristics that serves to isolate that group from opportunity and establish barriers to their full participation in society. Gofman assigned individuals to one of two categories - the stigmatized and normals. He then identified a subset within the normals:

    1. the stigmatized are those who bear the stigma;
    2. the normals are those who do not bear the stigma; and
    3. the wise are those among the normals who are accepted by the stigmatized as "wise" to their condition (borrowing the term from the homosexual community).


The entry on Social Stigma at Wikipedia goes on the elaborate:

The wise normals are not merely those who are in some sense accepting of the stigma; they are, rather, "those whose special situation has made them intimately privy to the secret life of the stigmatized individual and sympathetic with it, and who find themselves accorded a measure of acceptance, a measure of courtesy membership in the clan." That is, they are accepted by the stigmatized as "honorary members" of the stigmatized group. "Wise persons are the marginal men before whom the individual with a fault need feel no shame nor exert self-control, knowing that in spite of his failing he will be seen as an ordinary other." Goffman notes that the wise may in certain social situations also bear the stigma with respect to other normals: that is, they may also be stigmatized for being wise.


While it is true that the wise may share in the stigma they are also much more likely to be immune to it when working as an expert and advocate on the behalf of travelers with disabilities - one of the three groups universally considered to be stigmatized.

Operating like a "secret shopper" a travel agent can help limit the challenges that one tackles while traveling to those one chooses for the thrill or personal fulfillment involved instead of making the very act of travel planning an exhausting endurance test.

On a more personal level the relationship one allows a wise travel agent to have with you can facilitate the unique needs of some travelers with disabilities. These can sometimes include sensitive information such as medical, stamina, personal care, communication, or assistive equipment needs.

Unknown to some travelers, travel agents are trained to ensure a high quality of satisfaction for their clients through the practice of qualification interviews when a customer first contacts them. Companies such as RoadID have developed innovative combinations of stylish medical alert accessories that provide access to medical and emergency contact data for first responders and can be a part of that process. Agencies such as Italy's Carlo Besta National Neurological Institute are engaged in ongoing research on how best to improve collection and communication of the needs of travelers with disabilities to travel professionals.

It is also the case that a travel agent may become passionately engaged as an ally for travelers with disabilities. In fact, that is rather likely. Numerous studies show that the one significant predictor of significant attitude change toward persons with disabilities is personal contact with them.

In that case, it is helpful for a traveler with a disability too be not only an articulate self-advocate but what amounts to a mentor in the travel agent's professional development.

I suggest some attitudes for self-advocatcy in the New Mobility article reprinted below, Disability Pride and World Travel as well as in the piece, Accessibility is Not Inclusion

The second element, becoming a living resource for the professional development of your travel agent requires all the skill and dedication of a consultant, teacher, and friend.  A good foundation would be to orient the travel agent to the various Models of Disability as explained by Deborah Kaplan in Definition of Disability 

Also helpful is familiarity with the concept of stigma and thinking about how to combat it.

Bruce Link and Jo Phelan[12] propose that stigma exists when four specific components converge:

1.      Individuals differentiate and label human variations.

2.      Prevailing cultural beliefs tie those labeled to adverse attributes.

3.      Labeled individuals are placed in distinguished groups that serve to establish a sense of disconnection between "us" and "them".

4.      Labeled individuals experience "status loss and discrimination" that leads to unequal circumstances.

In this model stigmatization is also contingent on "access to social, economic, and political power that allows the identification of differences, construction of stereotypes, the separation of labeled persons into distinct groups, and the full execution of disapproval, rejection, exclusion, and discrimination." Subsequently, in this model the term stigma is applied when labeling, stereotyping, disconnection, status loss, and discrimination all exist within a power situation that facilitates stigma to occur...

 Stigma, though powerful and enduring, is not inevitable, and can be challenged. There are two important aspects to challenging stigma: challenging the stigmatisation on the part of stigmatizers, and challenging the internalized stigma of the stigmatized. To challenge stigmatization, Campbell et al.[16] summarise three main approaches.

1.     There are efforts to educate individuals about the non-stigmatising facts and why they should not stigmatise.

2.     There are efforts to legislate against discrimination.

3.     There are efforts to mobilize the participation of community members in anti-stigma efforts, to maximize the likelihood that the anti-stigma messages have relevance and effectiveness, according to local contexts.


In the end, the very act of you getting out to travel is educational for the industry. How much more valuable as you are able to recruit allies and identify the wise among travel professionals along the way.

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