Are Travel Agents Really Coming Back?


Are Travel Agents Really Coming Back?

The Washington Post recently reported on the resurgence of the much-maligned profession, the travel agent, an occupation that the article notes was even the butt of a joke on 30 Rock when Liz Lemon was cast off to a subway tunnel to live with other extinct American professions (among the other jobs were an American auto worker, a rock band saxophonist, and the CEO of Friendster).

The ranks of those that call themselves travel agents have more than halved in the past decade. “In 2001, there were 37,981 travel agencies, according to ARC . . . [a]s of March [2011], there were 16,564.” However, as the article points out, a recent Forrester Research study revealed that the number of non-business travelers who took to the Web to book their vacations “dropped from 53 percent in 2007 to 47 percent in 2010.”

Factors that could be influencing this trend may be a return to a desire for trusted travel advice and lack of time for planning. My own pet theory for this trend is the fact that the majority of travelers over the next couple of decades will be made up of the class of retiring baby boomers who will be traveling much more than their retiring forefathers, yet who are also still more ill at ease with the internet than younger generations (and thus turning to trusty agents).

Keep in mind, the same research company found that online booking of leisure travel in the U.S. is projected to rise from $80 billion in 2010 to $86.6 billion in 2011 and to $110.7 billion by 2014, so it’s not exactly like there’s a mass exodus of DIY bookers to agents busy calling airlines and hotels from their cubicle.

My take on this? I don’t really care either way. Travel agent, online booking agent, old-timey telegraph travel booker, Paul the Octopus travel consultant — as long as people are getting out there and traveling, I’m a happy person.


Published on May 12, 2011

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