The total number of Travel Professionals may be lower than it was years ago, but the travel industry is in a constant state of transformation, and the number of agency locations continues to grow by nearly 6% every year. Travel Professionals have become even more valuable as travel-related businesses undergo new openings (or closings) and agents are positioned to find the best price or deliver a trusted product to their customers.
Travel agencies reportedly account for $130 billion in gross travel sales in the U.S., as well as more than half of the $247 billion travel market and 30% of all hotel bookings (as reported by PhoCusWright). Travel Weekly’s 2010 Consumer Trends report also indicated that comparatively, younger Echo-Boomer travelers, who prefer to be waited on and have others do for them, tend to seek out Travel Professionals more than older Gen Xers, who are real do-it-yourselfers. This younger generation represents 20% of leisure travelers who use traditional travel agents. Because the web is “old hat” to them, they are not as entranced by what they can find online, and actually, they are pushing back from information overload by allowing an expert to do it for them.
Several years ago, one of our clients, Starwood Hotels & Resorts, recognized that travelers were increasingly turning to Travel Professionals for valuable personal relationships and a trusted source of information. Created by professionals and for professionals, StarwoodPro.com was established to provide a sophisticated, user-friendly interface between Starwood and Travel Professionals. StarwoodPro.com delivers easily accessible content on deals, rates, products, commissions and sales contacts, plus comprehensive hotel and brand information, along with benefits from a rich loyalty program.
In 2010, Sheraton and Westin hotels, which are both Starwood brands, wanted to leverage the relationships established within this segment by introducing specific Travel Professional promotions designed to generate interest, gain trust and sway their powerful influence. These campaigns drew participation from 8,400 and 15,000 participants, respectively—and doubled the size of Starwood’s Travel Professional database within one week. Explosive campaign results, in addition to general performance indicators within the industry, show that Travel Professionals continue to have value and are a critical target audience to be included in any marketing plan.