In the past month, both Women’s Day and CareerCast received heavy backlash when they questioned whether travel agents still matter in this economy. CareerCast called out travel agents as one of the most useless jobs in the current economy, reasoning that “most phases of the travel agent’s job are accessible for users online and without fees.” Meanwhile, Women’s Day offered up 10 things your travel agent won’t tell you. Both articles were overwhelmed with thousands of comments, many by travel agents themselves.
So, do travel agents still matter?
In a word, yes. According to recent comments from Paul M. Ruden, Senior Vice President for American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA), travel agents hold a relevant portion of market share. In 2012, there were 143 million transactions done by travel agents who sold $86 billion worth of air travel–that’s 64 percent of the market. Incorporated into this number are online travel agents, but brick-and-mortar agents can still be accounts of $9 billion annually in tour package and $15 billion annually in cruise travel.
Ruden concludes, “travel agents are alive and well – and they do a robust business by providing expertise and advice to millions of travelers every year, using a combination of new and old technologies.”
Additional information from a Marketwatch report noted that one in four airline tickets is still sold by brick-and-mortar travel agents, 70 percent of those tickets are for corporate travel and the rest leisure..
A further study from Harrison Group and American Express Publishing recognized that travel agents are geared toward affluent travel. Per the study, approximately 20 percent of consumers who have a household income greater than $100,000 used a travel agent to book a ticket in the last year. This is an increase from 2009, when one out of every seven household used a travel agent.
Why use a travel agent?
Even if you are not in the highest income bracket, there are many good reasons to hire a travel agent. Sure, most travelers can probably handle booking a simple vacation. But if you are booking a complicated itinerary or traveling with a large group, not only will a travel agent handle all of the logistics so nothing goes wrong, but often they have the relationships to be sure that you get the best rate.
Here’s the thing. Don’t just hire the first travel agent you find online. Hire one that is specialized for what you want to do. Look for operators that are members of the United States Tour Operators Association, the American Society of Travel Agents, or the National Tour Association, which means is they’re required to carry a certain amount of insurance and adhere to specific standards.
How to vet a travel agent
Remember that if a company belongs to a member organization that doesn’t mean you’re protected. Call the company to vet them. You’ll want to know out how long they’ve been in business, whether they are licensed and how much insurance they carry.
You can always check with the Better Business Bureau in the company’s home state to see if there have been any complaints lodged against them. Then, ask the company to give you references of former customers.
And lastly, always read the cancellation and refund policies thoroughly, and pay with a credit card, which protects you if you in many cases if you need to dispute a charge.
For more information on booking travel today, check out:
- The Agent vs. Merchant Model for Online Hotel Bookings
- Scam or Legit: Learn to ID Credible Travel Web Sites
- A Travel Agent on 5 Steps for Rebooking a Flight
By Lily J. Kosner for PeterGreenberg.com