#online travel agents
Travel agents back in demand
Tim Shortt, FLORIDA TODAY
Passengers arrive for Royal Caribbean’s Enchantment of the Seas cruise at Port Canaveral.
Passengers arrive for Royal Caribbean s Enchantment of the Seas cruise at Port Canaveral. less
It sounds so last century, but Geraldine Blanchard remembers a time when only travel agents or airlines could book flights for passengers.
Those days flew by the wayside in the 1990s, with the advent of technology that allowed everyone with Internet access to work directly with airlines and travel providers to reserve their own passage, by land or sea. Travel agencies nationwide suffered and, in many cases, downsized or closed
“It was like everyone became a travel agent, or thought they were,” said Blanchard, vice president and co-owner of Global Tours Travel of Melbourne.
But increasingly, certain segments of the traveling public appear to be returning to travel agents to do their booking and oversee their journeys.
It’s not all good news, at least job-wise. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 64,680 full-time travel agents in 2012. A decade before, there were 95,360.
Revenues, however, have gone up. Travel agencies generated $17.5 billion in revenue in 2011, up from $9.4 billion in 2002, according to the Census Bureau. Part of that is due to higher pricing, but it also can be attributed to increased productivity thanks to technology. For instance, agencies used to have a backroom of agents who put together paper tickets and mailed them to clients.
However it happened, Blanchard is pleased — and busy.
“The pendulum is going the other way once again,” said Blanchard, whose business is 18 years old. “And it’s wonderful for us.”
At 72, Shirley Fulton wouldn’t dream of taking off on a trip without conferring with her preferred travel agency, Cruise Holidays of Viera.
Just in the past year or so, the Brevard resident has taken several cruises — the longest, 15 days, and the shortest, two-day jaunts. Some are with girlfriends; she’s also gone on group trips led by Larry and Lynda Jackson, owners of Cruise Holidays.
She feels safer and, in turn, has more fun, she said of going that route.
“I’ve gotten lazy and old and, I’d like to think, smarter,” Fulton said, laughing.
“I thought I’d be paying more by using a travel agent, but that’s not the case. I like the fact that I can call Larry and Lynda and say, ‘I’m not doing anything next June. Whatcha got going? Any specials?’ And if a problem arises, you’re not hung out to dry with some airline or cruise ship, where you don’t know how to handle what’s going on. A travel agent handles it for you.”
Adam Weissenberg, vice chairman and leader of Deloitte’s U.S. Travel, Hospitality and Leisure practice, said travelers are more willing to turn to professionals when they’re dealing with unusual locations or high-end luxury and specialized travel. More senior travelers are also more likely to seek help, he said.
“I think even though online continues to grow, there will always be demand for that personal level of service for certain segments of the traveling population,” he said.
Larry Jackson, a former stockbroker, remembers clearly the late 1990s, when online travel businesses became popular and consumers sought deals on the Internet rather than via travel experts.
For a time, “It almost became like the national pastime, to see who could get the cheapest deal online,” said Jackson, whose Cruise Holidays is now 10 years old.
“It turns out, the cheapest cruise might not be the best for you,” he said. “So you wind up on the wrong vacation for you, in the wrong place. Especially today, with the money people are spending on vacations, people are being more careful.”
But for some tech-savvy people, the appeal of doing it themselves outweighs any benefits gained by using an agent,meaning some uncertainty is likely to continue for the industry.
A trio of travelers waiting for a Charlotte-bound flight at Melbourne International Airport said though they’ve used travel agencies, they prefer the self-serve option.
Joni Slattery, who has relatives in Florida, did all the planning for a trip for herself and colleagues Dottie Patria and Christine Tarr — visit to Walt Disney World included.
For Slattery, a convenience store owner in Maine, much of the appeal of doing it herself is about control.
“I like to choose where I’m going to sit; know exactly how long the connection time is going to be,” she said.
“I don’t want it to be 30 minutes, but I also don’t want it to be six hours. I could use a travel agent, but I can also do it myself.”
And Carl and Nicole DeMaria, who live in Atlanta and just bought a home in Vero Beach, said Nicole’s never failed to book trips that went off without a hitch. They travel several times a year, often with their dog, Ellie, and do all their booking online.
“Any vacation we do, Nicole plans,” said Carl, fresh off a flight from Georgia. “We used a travel agent for a trip to Greece and everything was wrong.”
Those who have long sworn by travel agents, though, say they’ve established relationships that ultimately save time and any hassle.
“If I have to go online and look for flights and tickets, well, it takes time to do all that,” said Joe Schmitt, president of Certified Thermographic Services Inc. of Palm Bay.
“I can make a call, and my agent will come back to me and say, ‘Here’s what you want to do.’ And if there’s a problem, or if I want to make a change or if I have a question, I have a one-stop shop as far as travel goes.”
• 47.5: Average age of leisure travelers. Mature travelers comprise 36%.
• 45.9: Average age for business travelers. 26% are 45 to 54; 20% are 55 to 64; 24%, 35 to 44; 9%, 25 to 34.
• 10%: Projected increase in employment of travel agents from 2010 to 2020.
• $62,500: Median household income for domestic leisure travelers in 2012.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics and U.S. Travel Association
Posted In: NEWS