Public Perception of Agents Makes a Remarkable Turnaround

by Marilee Crocker

If anyone asks you if this is a good time to become a travel agent, tell them yes.

Here are three good reasons why:

  • Favorable reputation. Leisure travelers see retail travel professionals in a positive light and appreciate the value they deliver. This positive perception is prevalent even among travelers who don’t use travel agents.
  •  Young market. Younger travelers are turning to travel agents in growing numbers. In fact, millennials are more likely to use agents than members of any other age group.
  •  Trending up. The overwhelming majority of travel agency customers plan to use an agent again in the future, and nearly half expect to increase their use of agents in the next two years. Even many do-it-yourself travelers plan to use an agent in the next two years.


ASTA study
Those are among the findings in ASTA’s 2015 Traveler Decision Making Study. Sponsored by Carnival Cruise Lines, the study provides insights into leisure travelers’ reasons for using––or not usinig––a travel agent, as well as the quality of their experience with agents.

Released this week, the study summarizes results of an online survey of 3,000 U.S. consumers. The survey group comprised adults who had taken at least one leisure trip with paid accommodations in the previous year and who had household incomes of $50,000 or more.

Lodestar Advisory Partners of Princeton, N.J. conducted the survey over a two-week perid.

A solid reputation
Today’s leisure travelers have overwhelmingly favorable perceptions of retail travel professionals, according to the survey.

The three attributes that travelers associated most strongly with travel agents were:

1)    Agents make travel planning easy, cited by 72% of all travelers.
2)    Agents take care of things when something goes wrong, 69%.
3)    Agents are good for booking special trips, 68%.

More than half of the respondents said agents provide a valuable service and that they have the knowledge to plan better vacations.

Image makeover
The favorable opinion that non-agency customers have of travel agents was particularly striking, as it represents a real turnaround in public perception, said ASTA director of research Melissa Teates.

“When we did this survey in 2008, non-users really didn’t have any good thoughts about agents. It was a lack of awareness.

“Even compared to last year, there was just so much more awareness. We’ve had a really nice PR change,” Teates said.

In the recent survey, fully 44% of travelers who currently don’t use agents said they planned to do so in the future, Teates noted. “Six years ago they were like, ‘Why would I ever use an agent?’”

Why use an agent?
Travelers said that for most types of leisure vacations the top reason for consulting an agent was his or her access to the best deals.

There was one exception: When planning escorted tour vacations, it was travel professionals’ destination-related knowledge that travelers valued most, though this was followed closely by agents’ ability to get customers a deal.

Interestingly, leisure travelers who had not used an agent in recent years said the top reason to consult a professional was because “agents have knowledge to make the best recommendations.”

When travelers did not use an agent—either for some or all of their recent travels—they cited reasons that were unrelated to agents’ performance. Most often they pointed to their own sense of self-sufficiency and their ease in booking travel on their own.

Satisfied customers
Among travel agency customers, satisfaction levels with agent performance were high, ASTA found.

Agency customers said they were highly influenced by agents’ recommendations, especially for accommodations and packages and tours.

Millennial and Gen X customers were most influenced by agents’ recommendations.

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