When the airlines cut travel agency commissions, and the "dot-coms" began to offer airfares on the Internet, the initial public reaction was, "That's the end of the travel agency industry." But to paraphrase Mark Twain, "The demise of the travel agency has been greatly exaggerated."
Why be so optimistic about the travel agency industry's future? Because it is ripe with growth potential. For example, U.S. travel agents' total annual sales are between $120 and $130 billion and rising. That's a lot of travel, and when you consider that travel agents still sell 80 percent of all airline tickets, 95 percent of all cruises, 90 percent of all tours and packages, 40 percent of all car rentals and about 25 percent of all hotels, it demonstrates that agents have the power, and the power is customer loyalty.
The travel agent of today, and the future, is an agent of the consumer. To that end, the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) has devised a new slogan that states succinctly how travel agents help the consumer with their travel arrangements. The slogan, "Without A Travel Agent, You're On Your Own," is true today more than ever. Agents act on their client's behalf, but if you've booked through the Internet, who are you going to call when you discover your "room with a view" has a view of the dumpster?
There are a host of compelling reasons to use a travel agent: Travel agents are out to find the consumer the best rate available. Convenient one-stop shopping. Agents are there to save you money as well as time.
*Customer advocacy: If you have a problem with a particular part of your travel experience, the agent is there to act on your behalf to see that restitution is made. ASTA, for example, is the only travel association aggressively fighting to improve the travel experience, and air transportation in particular, for all consumers, not just those with access to the Internet.
*Expert guidance: Travel agents, unlike instructions on a Web page, are experts in understanding and deciphering the myriad of travel information and codes out there. It's what they've been trained to do and they do it every day.
*Personalized service: Instead of an impersonal voice thousand of miles away, travel agents are you neighbors. They know what you want and what you value in your travel experience.
Professional advice: Travel agents are there to make sure you get where you want to go, when you want to go and for the lowest price.
*Time: Instead of checking a long list of travel Web pages, which only provide rates and fares for the companies that have contracted with them, why not go straight to the source? A travel agent has all the information at their fingertips, saving you a few hours in front of a computer screen.
*Unbiased information: Agents work for their clients, not for a travel supplier. It makes sense that a happy customer will be a repeat customer.