Travel agents and advisors have seen some of the most profound changes in modern business as online platforms and apps have changed how travelers book domestic and international travel. The numerous deal websites that help find cheap airfares and hotels have allowed consumers to find the cheap prices that used to be the domain of agents alone. In fact, the number of travel agents has dropped since the Expedias and Skyscanners of the world arose. In 2000 there were 124,030 freelance travel agents in the U.S., and by 2019 that number had dropped to 66,670. One might argue that as these online booking websites became more popular, travel agents became less and less relevant. So, is there still a future for travel agents? What does the travel industry outlook look like? Here is what you need to know.
When the pandemic arose in 2020, it altered many aspects of the travel industry swiftly and thoroughly, including the role of travel agents and its future outlook. Sixty-two percent of U.S. travel agents were either laid off or furloughed in 2020. Despite this, an interesting trend developed when people started planning to travel again. Data shows that many of them turned to travel agents, or advisors, for guidance. In fact, a 2021 poll by the American Society of Travel Advisors found 76 percent of advisors saw an increase in customers compared to prior to the pandemic while 81 percent said they were hearing from consumers who had never used an advisor.
New regulations around health, safety and general travel became more complex in the post-covid world. Travelers wanted further support to navigate the changing landscape, whether that be cancellations, getting sick or entry and quarantine requirements for another country or even another state. The role of the travel agents and advisors became even more valuable and important to assist the traveler in making informed decisions now and in the future.
Group travel outlook
Group travel has traditionally been booked through travel agents. Travel agents have access to deals and bulk buying options that solo consumers don’t, especially when it comes to tours, high-end flights, and cruises. Coordinating bookings across multiple parties can also get confusing, and a travel agent can reserve rooms in the same hotels and seats on the same flights with multiple credit cards and names.
Group bookings are continuing to rise, with Amadeus data showing that group bookings are also starting to extend more confidently into 2023. Over four million group bookings are already made for H1 2023 and the future outlook for group travel is very promising.
Business travel outlook
Business travel can be complicated, especially when navigating unexpected changes to itineraries and sometimes-strict corporate travel policies. For corporate travelers, enlisting the help of an agent or a travel manager is often a necessity. And, with business travel segments showing steady recovery in Q4 (with 4.3 million group room nights already booked for H1 2023), the demand continues to grow. One reason for the growth in business travel since the pandemic is that many businesses transitioned to a hybrid working pattern. Instead of commuting into the office every day, some coworkers now see their teams at quarterly conferences, traveling sometimes longer distances at greater intervals.
Limitations of online booking
Increasing numbers of travelers have learned that searching the web can be a time-consuming and potentially frustrating process to find the best fares and hotels, while also coordinating the many details of a trip. For novice travelers or those not internet-savvy, the process of booking travel online can be overwhelming. For those with any hesitation about their ability to successfully book travel online, a good travel agent will be able to assemble a trip based on budget and interest areas, safety and health concerns.
Where to now? Travel agents outlook
The demand for the travel agency model still persists. In fact, the demand for well-informed travel agents is expected to continue to grow in the future. Expert agents with lengthy experience of operating in the field can provide unique value-adds to trips such as room upgrades, tour arrangements and meal customizations. They can also offer contingency support with airport immigrations, and help with challenges like missed connections, lost luggage, or Visa or passport related issues.
Though the landscape of travel agents in the future may look a little different than it did before 2020, the BLS has projected a 20% increase in demand for travel agents from 2021 to 2031, outstripping its 5% growth projection for all occupations. As people continue to travel as members of a global society, they will continue to rely on travel agents for support and guidance.
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