In order to help agents expand their market share, the American Society of Travel Agents will be conducting research that delves deeper into why consumers book travel on their own rather than calling a travel agent, president and CEO Zane Kerby announced at a press conference on Monday.
The conference was called to discuss at greater length ASTA’s most recent survey, "Best of Both Worlds: Quantifying How Travel Agents Save Consumers Time and Money." ASTA originally disclosed some of the survey results in May—most notably, that agents save their customers an average of $452 per trip. That study, representing responses from 3,000 U.S. consumers, was funded by Carnival Corporation and conducted by market research firm TNS Global.
“These results are really exciting to me,” Kerby said, “because we are able to slice the data into four different age categories and understand the characteristics of these age groups. Agent usage rises across all categories, and there is a lot of travel going on. This means there is room for travel agents to grow their footprint within each age group.”
ASTA research director Kevin Wang noted that the study shows that consumers who use travel agents “tend to have higher budgets. And they’re going to agents for more complex and/or international trips,” Wang said.
One of the key findings of the survey is that 22% of travelers have used a travel agent to book a trip in the past 12 months, a market share higher than at any other time in the three years ASTA has been surveying consumers. The figure stood at 14% three years ago.
“Consumers have learned they are not all travel agents,” Kerby said. “They’re willing to pay for a professional. Now, we’re trying to understand those who don’t use agents.” A new study, exploring travel booking habits of consumers in the four key age segments, will be out early this fall.
The top four reasons consumers who haven’t used an agent in the past 12 months chose not to do so were:
1. I like organizing my own itinerary.
2. I prefer to do my own research.
3. I can organize the best trip.
4. The best deals are online.
Kerby acknowledged that as America ages, travel agents need to define their relevance to younger population segments who might not remember when agents had brick-and-mortar storefronts. “Because agents aren’t visible on the street corner every day, Millennials don’t have an understanding of what travel agents do. It’s our job to keep them in the public consciousness,” he said.
In order to help raise awareness, ASTA launched a new online commercial at its recent Destination Expo in Seville. The one-minute video stars Craig Sechler, an actor who has appeared on the television show Veep with Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Sechler is filmed at a spa, describing how his travel agent cares for him throughout his trip and gives him peace of mind when his plans are upset.
The ad is featured on the ASTA.org web page, YouTube and the ASTA Facebook page where it has been viewed more than 21,000 times.
There is currently no plan to place the ad on television, Kerby said, given the much larger expense of broadcast and cable advertising. “We’re dipping our toe into this water. We want to start online and see where that takes us,” he said.
Despite the differences in generational experiences, Kerby is encouraged that ASTA members can grow their market share with Millennials. Thirty percent of Millennials responding to the study have used an agent in the past 12 months, and 45% said they are “extremely likely” to recommend their travel agent to a friend or family. Given that 40% of Millennials responding to the survey reported earning more than $100,000 a year, Kerby believes his members should target them actively.
ASTA’s current study is the biggest the organization has completed in the last three years. TNS Global’s monthly survey panel represents approximately 14,000 U.S. households, a subset of the more than 200,000 U.S. households TNS Global reaches out to each year.
Members can purchase the research by visiting the publications section of the ASTA website.