Travel Agent Popularity on the Rise Yet Again

by Richard D'Ambrosio
Travel Agent Popularity on the Rise Yet Again

It's not just Boomers, Millennials appear to seek out traditional agents much more for advice on destinations than their older peers according to MMGY. Photo: 

Travel advisors continue to prove their value, as more consumers are using them to assist and book vacations, a recent study shows, highly valuing their expertise for international trips, hotels and tour packages.

According to MMGY Global’s annual “Portrait of the American Traveler,” 13% of all vacations were “aided by traditional travel agents” last year, up from 8% in 2018. Furthermore, 16% of respondents to the survey said they have used a traditional travel agent for at least one vacation in the last 12 months, up from 14% in the previous study.

Similarly, 19% of consumers say they plan to use the services of a traditional travel agent in the next two years, versus 16% in 2018. (The response to future usage of a travel agent peaked at 25% in 2016.)

Consumers continue to see the value in utilizing agents for international trips, with 68% of consumers who have used an agent in the past 12 months doing so for trips abroad, according to the report from MMGY Global’s Travel Intelligence group. This is up from 52% last year, flipping the share of domestic versus international trips. In the 2018 study, 71% of trips where travel agents assisted were for domestic vacations, versus only 64% this year.

They also value agents to assist in booking vacation package/tours and accommodations the most – with 80% and 78% respectively saying they will do so in the next two years. Seventy percent of consumers who say they will use an agent in the next two years say they will do so for their cruise booking.

What do consumers love about agents?
Consumers who have used an agent in the past 12 months told MMGY that they value travel advisors most for their knowledge of destinations and the ability to provide an extra level of service when things go wrong (85%), and the ability to take the hassle out of booking travel (84%).

Clearly, the last few years of horrible airport delays, hurricanes and other trip interruptions has heightened the focus on how advisors are there for their clients when things go wrong. Responses citing “the ability to provide an extra level of service when things go wrong” jumped 13 percentage points in this year’s MMGY report, the most of any reason to use a traditional travel agent.

Tied for third was an agent’s knowledge of travel service providers in a destination and recommendations that “assure high-quality travel experiences” (81%).

Recommendations for high-quality experiences saw a 10 percentage point jump in this year’s survey, the second largest single increase of all of the reasons tracked.

Deeper down on the list of reasons why travelers love advisors, “gaining access to experiences I can’t get on my own” jumped nine percentage points from 65% to 74% this year, the third largest increase in reasons to use an agent.

Love from Millennials continues
For the last several years, MMGY has been documenting the increasing affection Millennials are showing to travel advisors. According to this year’s report, 24% of them said they used a traditional agent for a vacation in the last 12 months, versus 12% of Baby Boomers and 10% of Generation Xers.

That love is forecasted to continue, as 24% of Millennials say they will use a traditional travel agent in the next two years, versus 16% of Baby Boomers and 15% of Generation Xers. There are some slight differences in what the various age groups will use traditional agents for in the next two years, according to MMGY.

For Millennials, the top three vacation categories are tour packages (85%), accommodations (83%), and airline tickets (82%). For Baby Boomers, its accommodations (77%), tours (76%) and air (63%). But for Generation Xers, its tours (76%), accommodations (66%) and cruises (65%).

Interestingly, Millennials appear to seek out traditional agents much more for advice on destinations than their older peers. Some 72% said they will ask agents for assistance with choosing a destination, versus only 43% for Generation Xers, and 37% for Baby Boomers.

The majority (56%) of Millennial vacations “aided” by a traditional travel agent in the last 12 months were domestic, while the majority of Baby Boomer agent-aided vacations (63%) were international. Similar behaviors were revealed when MMGY asked the different age groups what kind of vacation was “booked” by an agent. 

For Baby Boomers, 72% were international and only 40% were domestic. For Millennials, 77% booked a domestic vacation with an agent, versus 67% saying they booked at least one international vacation in the last 12 months.

Millennials value much of the same areas of expertise and customer service as their peer groups, though Baby Boomers most valued an agent’s ability to help when things go wrong (91%), versus 85% for Millennials, and 80% for Xers. 

There were, however, stark differences in categories where travel agents can take the stress out of travel planning. For example, 75% of Millennials said travel agents take care of researching vacations because it “takes too much time,” versus only 57% of Baby Boomers, and 55% of Generation Xers. Millennials also feel agents can better prices for a complete vacation than they can get on their own (80%), versus Generation Xers (67%) and Boomers (66%). Millennials (76%) also value traditional travel agents to help them find out “what’s hot/new,” versus 68% of Generation Xers, and only 60% of Baby Boomers. 

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