Government Numbers Miss Strong Growth In Agent Market

by Cheryl Rosen

December brought a mixed bag of numbers for the travel industry, including, once again, inaccurate numbers that fail to take into account the growing number of independent contractors in the travel agency community.

On the positive side, though, they also showed that the need for travel agents, and the amount that Americans will spend on travel overall, are heading up.

A report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics suggested that the total number of travel agents is falling by about 1% a year, from 74,100 in 2012 to 65,400 by 2024, as more travelers book online. But industry insiders, including ASTA, say that the number does not include an estimated 40,000-and-growing-number of independent contractors.

The BLS 2016-2017 Occupational Outlook Handbook does also note that “the sheer number of travel and review websites can make travel planning a frustrating experience” that “may lead to an increasing number of people turning to travel agents to help filter through the options and give personal recommendations."

Also on the plus side, it notes the increasing number of Baby Boomer travel agents who are retiring, making room for a new generation, and the advantage of specializing in a niche or in corporate travel. 

At the same time, a USTOA study found that 9 out of 10 tour operators predict growth in 2016, and more than half (57%) predict “a boom year,” with growth of more than 10%.  

In particular they cited Cuba, Myanmar, Iceland, Colombia, and Ethiopia and Japan (tied for fifth) as top emerging destinations, and named art and culture, honeymoon and romance, and intergenerational travel as the most popular travel categories.

Pic: Wilerson S Andrade

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