We speak to Ertugrul Karaoglu, chairperson of the ASTA International Chapter Presidents Council, for his view from the top
How did you get your start in the travel business and what drew you to it?
I started in 1976 by taking a tourist guide course as a university student. At that time it was very interesting to be a guide; to have a chance to practice languages, to make some extra money in your spare time, and maybe to meet some girls from other countries. But after a short time I ended up in the back office, organizing the packages, itineraries and sales. I’ve always been an active person by nature, so tourism was an ideal job for me. After graduation and working for a short time in a travel agency, I founded a travel business called Intra Tours from scratch with a few colleagues back in 1980.
What are you most optimistic about when it comes to the future of the travel agent distribution channel?
The future is still not 100% clear. But against the odds — the challenges of new technologies and the internet — I see the expertise and need for consultation securing the travel agents’ future. Not just the intermediation of knowledge, but the contribution to it, too. The survivors will be the ones who know and can sell value added and/or complex products.
What is of particular concern to ASTA’s international members, most of which are hybrid agency/tour operators?
They want to find ways to sell their services to American travel agencies. At the moment, international members need to interact more with US agents. They need to learn what American agents wanting and need. And from the other side, the US agents need to be more open to studying the options offered by global members. Business between international members is also important.
Are there enough new agents coming into the business? Does the industry need to do more to draw them in or significantly change the training for our current front-line agents?
There are many travel agents coming into the business on the international scene, sometimes too many in some areas. This can be counterproductive, because if they start without the proper training, everyone will suffer.
What would you say is the most valuable benefit of being an ASTA member?
From an international member’s perspective, having access to American travel agencies, the prestige, and having the chance to learn what is happening in the US travel agency scene are all tremendously valuable benefits.
As ASTA’s International Chapter Presidents’ Council chairperson, what is your top priority?
My top priority is to bring American agencies and international members/suppliers together to do business, drawing more global members and active chapters on board along the way. This way, we can help ASTA to be very strong on the international scene as well.
What are the biggest travel trends you’ve seen develop in recent times?
I’d say the important trend is experience sharing. On personal and business levels, decisions are made by checking on others’ experiences.
What kind of things do we need to do a better job at as representatives of the industry?
As active members of the travel industry, we have to be more creative and never lose the focus on service.
Is there someone you model your business style after or someone you consider a mentor?
My father. He was a judge and taught me to always be fair which has helped me achieve many of my business goals.