The annual prediction that computers will replace travel agents surfaced again in November — and was quickly picked up by travel professionals fighting back on Facebook. Then came the facts: A large study from Phocuswright foresees five years of sales growth by U.S. travel agencies.
It started with a blog titled, “25 Dying Professions You Should Avoid,” which named travel agent as the number one job to avoid, generating heated comments from travel professionals on Facebook.
That same week, Phocuswright issued a report titled, “U.S. Travel Agency Distribution Landscape 2016-2021: From ‘Survivor’ to ‘The Bachelorette,’” which found that, "Travel agents aren't only surviving; they're being courted. Suppliers, consortia and host agencies are trying to attract travel agents to their products.”
U.S. travel agency sales will grow nearly 13 percent, from $112.8 billion in 2017 to $127 billion in 2021, according to data culled by Phocuswright from air, car, hotel, cruise and tour suppliers, the report said. “Leisure agents are specialists; they are entrenched in certain consumer groups and are communicating constantly with their customer network via mobile devices, social media, whatever works. Personal networks and relationships are playing into agents' hands, since this shows they're truly the keepers of the keys to lucrative leisure travelers."
Travel agents cite big numbers
"I believe that being a travel advisor is not only becoming a more desirable profession, but it has remarkable potential, especially for a luxury leisure advisor,” said Kimberly Wilson Wetty, co-president of Valerie Wilson Travel in New York. “Very few careers give the ability to truly make a difference in people's lives. You become a valuable resource for clients on how and where they spend their hard-earned vacation time. Additionally, being a travel advisor has many benefits, such as the ability to travel and build friendships around the work. In my mind ... not a dying career.”
Debbie Fiorino, senior vice president of Dream Vacations, CruiseOne and Cruises Inc., also expressed a positive outlook: "There has never been a better time to become a travel agent. The vacation booking process has become more complex and the internet further complicates the planning process by providing thousands of search results and recommendations. Travel agents are able to not only qualify consumers into selecting the right vacation to meet their needs and exceed their expectations, but can also provide personal recommendations based on their own travels and industry training.”
And, a sea of travel agents agreed.
“My dying profession has grown steadily every single year since 2011 (when I started my travel agency). It has always seen double-digit annual increases, and my sales are currently up 30 percent over this time last year,” said Karen Coleman-Ostrov, owner of a Dream Vacations franchise in Gilbert, Arizona.
Caryn Berla, at ABC Family Cruising & Travel in West Windsor, New Jersey, said: “I started in 2011 and have seen double-digit growth every year, including this year (up 35 percent).”
Kristina Raykinstein, owner of KVR Travel Group in suburban Detroit, scoffed: “This is my fourth year, and I went from 0 to $1.3 million in sales … yep, definitely a dying breed.”
“This made me spit out my coffee,” said MaryAnn Fusco at MSW Travel in Uniondale, New York, citing “33 years, 21 ICs, most with me, 25 years. You don’t make six figures and travel in luxury in a dying profession.”
Dream Vacation Franchise Owner Wendy Montebello chimed in with: “My numbers doubled in 2017 and again in 2018. Just try booking a trip on your cell phone. In this Door Dash world, why go get McDonalds when you can have it delivered? It’s all about having someone do tasks for you.”
Tammy Jones-Deem, at TJ’s Travel LLC in Tyler, Texas, had this to say: “I’m currently looking at my best year in 35 years in the industry. A quality travel counselor is fast becoming more and more valuable. I’ve had clients tell me I’m on their speed dial, along with their accountant and attorney.”
And Teri Hurley, of Endless Love Travel, said: “Those custom FITs, especially those who aren’t looking to do two weeks on $3,000, come to us. In droves. As do those whose lives are enabled by support services such as yard care and pet sitters. They are busy and they need it to be the best it can be.”
The future looks bright for Suzanne Haire, of All Travel Company in Indianapolis. In her fourth year in business, with sales of over $1 million, she said: “I have more Millennial and Gen Z clients than Boomers and Gen X. My business is on the rise; the younger generations want direction and inclusion of information that will lead them to experiences. They do not want click and order and hope for the best.”
In short, said Geoff Millar at Ultimate All Inclusive Travel Inc., “I attribute our success to the fact that we specialize. Travel is not a unique product. Your in-depth knowledge and your experience are the unique products you sell.”