MMGY Global’s annual “Portrait of American Travelers” survey, released earlier this month, revealed a strong desire by Americans to travel this year and in the future. But the initial results that were showcased did not include any measures of travel agent usage, even though historically that has been part of the survey.
Last year’s survey revealed some surprisingly high numbers when MMGY asked Millennials if they planned to use travel agents. That trend continued in this year’s survey, with 27% of Millennial travelers saying they took vacations aided by traditional travel agents, compared to 11% of Gen Xers, 5% of Baby Boomers, and 5% of Matures.
When asked if they have used a traditional travel agent to book at least one vacation over the past 12 months, 34% of Millennials said they had, compared with 16% of Gen Xers, 9% of Boomers and 10% of Matures. Even more interesting, Millennials who used agents averaged 3.5 vacations over the past 12 months, compared with just 2.3 for Gen Xers, 1.7 for Boomers and 1.6 for Matures.
Even better, when asked if they plan to use the services of a traditional travel agent over the next two years, 39% of Millennial travelers surveyed said they would do so, compared with 21% of Gen Xers, 16% of Boomers and 16% of Matures.
Of those Millennials who are planning to use a traditional agent, 82% say they will use them to book a vacation package or tour, 85% say they will book at hotel or resort, 83% said they would book a destination, 83% said they would book an airline, 76% said a cruise line and 74% said a car rental.
Millennials said that among the reasons they plan to use a traditional agent are: knowledge of destinations and travel service providers (83%), the ability to provide an extra level of service when things go wrong (84%), the ability to take the hassle out of booking (82%), recommendations that assure high quality travel (82%), more control over booking each aspect of the trip (86%, much higher than Gen Xers, Boomers, and Matures), greater confidence in the recommendations of traditional agents (85%, much higher than Boomers or Matures), the experience to help me book a better trip than I could on my own (82%), an understanding of what’s hot or new (81%, much higher than Boomers and Matures), and better prices for the total cost of the trip (79%, much higher than Gen Xers, Boomers or Matures).
“Last year it was all about the increase in the use of agents by Millennials,” said Steve Cohen, vice president-insights for MMGY Global. “Now we kind of expect it. Millennials are using agents because they are taking some involved vacations. More of what I hear is they are afraid of being ripped off and there are just too many places to get information.”
In fact, American travelers’ overall use of travel agents and desire to use them is up across the board in every generational group. Some 19% of the 2,948 Americans surveyed by MMGY Global said they had used a travel agent for at least one vacation in the last 12 months, with the average number of vacations at 2.9. That’s a higher percentage of travel agent users than in any previous year of the survey, up almost 20% from last year’s 16%, with the average number of vacations up dramatically from 2.3 vacations last year.
American travelers who said they used travel agents also said they were strongly influenced by them to select hotels and resorts (83%), vacation packages and tours (79%), airlines (78%), destinations (75%), travel insurance (75%), attractions and events (74%), car rentals (69%), cruises (66%), and trains (57%).
Some of these percentages, especially cruises, might seem low, but Cohen said that is because fewer people overall take cruises than fly, stay in a hotel or rent a car. More importantly, he said, the percentages for booking all travel products through travel agents have been going up steadily for the past few years.
Even better, 25% of respondents said they plan to use the services of a traditional travel agent for a vacation during the next two years. That’s up 47% from last year, when only 17% said they were likely to use an agent. Of those, 80% are likely to use a traditional agent to book vacation packages, 76% to book tours hotel or resort, 75% for destinations, 74% for airlines, 69% for cruise lines and 59% for car rentals.
When asked about their reasons for working with a traditional travel agent over an online travel agency, American travelers cited knowledge of destinations and travel service providers (86%), the ability of provide an extra level of service when things go wrong (85%), the ability to take the hassle out of booking travel (85%), recommendations that assure high quality travel (82%), more control over booking each aspect of the trip (81%), greater confidence in the recommendations a traditional travel agents (79%), the experience to help me book a better trip than I could on my own (78%), an understanding of what’s hot or new (72%), better prices for the total cost of the trip (72%), longstanding relationship with my traditional travel agent (70%), and better security over the transaction than the Internet (69%).
When surveying all American travelers on sources considered during the stages of vacation planning, MMGY Global found traditional travel agents are far down on the list of influences for those seeking “ideas and inspiration.” Indeed, agents come in 22nd after such influences as friends and family (51%), Internet search engine results (36%), magazine articles (36%), printed visitor guides (36%), TV advertising (35%), online visitor guides (35%) and 15 other influences. Agents, in contrast, were cited by 22% of American traveler respondents.
Travel agents did better in the “advice and ratings” stage of vacation planning, with 18% of American travelers saying they consider agents as a source, following 11 other sources, including friends and family (39%), travel review websites (39%), Internet search engine results (37%), online travel agencies (27 percent) and six others.
In the “compare features and prices” stage of vacation planning, traditional agents came in 13th, with 19% of American travelers saying they turned to them, following such other sources as Internet search engine results (45%), online travel agencies (44%), hotel and resort promotions (42%), airline promotions (38%), travel service provider websites (35%) and seven other sources.
In the “making reservations” stage of vacation planning, however, traditional travel agents came in sixth, with 14% of respondents saying they turn to agents. In reservations, travel agents followed travel service provider websites (32%), online travel agencies (31%), hotel and resort promotions (20%), Internet search engine results (20%) and airline promotions (16%).
“Everything we see on agents is pointing in a positive direction,” Cohen said. “We don’t see anything where they are dropping. The use of agents continues to rebound and I don’t see it stopping unless somebody comes up a new way of doing this.”