According to the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA), the U.S. travel agency industry is comprised of nearly 10,000 firms operating in 15,000 locations—and all represent highly motivated, extremely interested buyers. Here are some important facts and trends to remember about this valuable partner as you develop your marketing plans for 2012:
1. Travel agents are still considered the experts.
Complicated and personalized travel transactions still require a travel agent’s expertise and guidance. In fact, the industry has seen a resurgence of travel experts as a result of the irrelevant, often misleading information on the Internet. Travelers find it difficult to book an exceptional travel experience unaided, and it’s even harder if they have special requests or needs. They will seek out the services of a travel agent in these situations, especially if the agent has intimate knowledge of the desired travel product.
2. Travel agents appeal to younger travelers.
Echo Boomers (age 18-31) represent 14% of the total population of leisure travelers, but equal 20% of the population that use travel agents. Why? Born into the computer age, these travelers are certainly savvy about online travel booking tools, but they also tend to experience information overload and want an expert to handle the details. This generation has a stronger sense of entitlement and prefers to be waited on versus the “do-it-yourself” mentality of older generations.
3. Travel agents generate better bookings.
The travel agent channel drives stronger returns, often delivering a higher average daily rate (ADR) and longer stays because agents tend to book premium room categories. Bookings from agents with a loyal customer base can generate more profit and higher quality repeat business.
4. Travel agents represent more stable business.
Because business from travel agents tends to be stable, it makes sense to preserve, if not increase, the volume of revenue produced by this channel. Companies that invest in travel agent marketing have seen as much as a 250% increase in YOY growth, and smaller brands and independent properties are now also looking to compete as well.
5. Travel agents introduce international opportunities.
Capitalize on the stronger economies in some overseas markets, many of which have maintained a more traditional agency sector. Even in emerging markets like Latin America and Asia, 80% to 90% of all travel is still booked through traditional channels. Culturally, relationships are extremely important in these markets, so consumer loyalty to local or regional leisure agents remains strong.
6. Travel agents bring in group leisure business.
Many hoteliers are seeing a surge in travel agent business through group sales, especially for milestone events. Family reunions, weddings, big birthday parties, church retreats, sports team travel and educational excursions all deliver leisure travelers in large numbers—and nearly all come through travel agent bookings.
7. Travel agents want to be your partner.
U.S. travel agents are looking for opportunities to personalize their relationships with suppliers, as evidenced by the evolution of the hosted buyer tradeshow. Case in point: Virtuoso Travel Mart’s luxury travel show, where 300,000 individual appointments took place between 1,680 travel agents and 1,605 advisors over six days.