Every industry has its tipping point, a time that marks a fundamental change in the way it conducts business—and if the research being done by The Travel Corporation is correct, this is one of those times. For the first time in history, more than half of U.S. travel agents are home-based.
“When more than half of the people are doing something, that is a tipping point in the industry—and from what we can see in all our data, more than half of all U.S. travel agents are working from home,” Trafalgar president Paul Wiseman told TMR at the USTOA reception on the eve of the NY Times Travel Show in New York this past weekend. “I don’t think that is true in any other country.”
It’s an elusive number, Wiseman acknowledged, and The Travel Corporation—parent of Trafalgar, Uniworld River Cruises, Brendan Vacations, African Travel and Insight Vacations and Insight Gold among other notable travel brands—has spent considerable time and resources trying to track it down.
“What we see in our research is that nobody actually has a complete list [of all the home-based travel agents]. But we have combined all of our data from many sources” to come up with the percentage, he said. “It’s a big deal for us in terms of how we structure our business and our approach to the market—it has an impact on every single piece of our business.”
At the New York Times show, meanwhile, suppliers and travel professionals were definitely in an upbeat mood. Wiseman said sales at Trafalgar are soaring this year—at the halfway mark of the 2017 selling cycle “we are ahead of all the years since 2013, which was our best year in Europe in seven years. Russia is big, big, big, I think just because it is in the news so much and customers want to go and take a look at it, and eastern Europe is not perceived as a safe destination.” The “value destinations” of Spain and Portugal are very popular, and even France, which “has been soft, is coming back.”
Further afield, Asia has been doing well, and demand is growing for India, where Trafalgar is headed for the first time in 2017.
Other tour operators agree
Providence, RI-based tour operator Tauck also reported a record-breaking year—“in 2016 our customers were going. The only question was where,” said Steve Spivak, VP of global sales. “I think everyone has adopted the mentality that you can't take it with you.”
But he too noted that “the biggest change was the emergence of the travel agent, emboldening them to go, and in that sense the partnership with the travel agent increased,” helping to convince their shared customers that “you deserve this, you have earned the right to travel. And we believe that with your help, it's going to be another up year for us.”
“Prior to the election we were looking good; post the election we just cannot answer the phones fast enough—and they are buying expensive, long-haul destinations,” agreed Mark Grundy, managing director for Asia at Avanti Destinations.
CIE Tours president Elisabeth Crabill also gave a shout-out to travel agents for “helping to inspire confidence” through a year that included terrorist shootings and Zika scares. “Travel agents do three important things for us: they help us inspire confidence, customize, and communicate.”