A couple of blocks from where I live is a a storefront travel agency. Been there for quite a while, as long as I can remember, anyway.
The space is crammed with brochures, books, all kinds of magazines and old posters. It’s almost always full of people. Some come and sit on the uneven naugahyde chairs and chat with the owner and each other.
Others are actual paying customers booking one kind of trip or another.
Business gets done amid the clutter.
Across town in a high-tech, ultra modern-looking building, is another travel agency. In this one everything is button-downed; clean, efficient with a very professional but friendly staff.
Travel of a different kind is planned and booked here, but it’s still a real travel agency.
But we’ve been told again and again that the “travel agent” is dead, a relic of the past.
Not so fast, Douglas Quinby, Senior Director of Research at PhoCusWright says. His company provides custom market research for the travel industry.
Quinby calls PhoCusWright’s for-sale report, a “defining research project.”
Dubbed The Once and Future Agent: PhoCusWright’s Travel Agency Distribution Landscape 2009-2013, the study takes a long, hard look at the travel agency community, and sees a rebirth.
No question there has been a sharp decline in the number of brick and mortar travel agencies, and becoming a travel agent is not on the top of any in-demand career list.
But, Quinby says, there has been a major shift in consumer behavior relative to booking travel and making travel plans, a shift toward booking with a travel agency and a trusted agent.
Hotelmarketing.com points out that traditional travel agencies account for one-third of travel bookings in the United States. That’s a huge 95$ billion in travel sales, or one-third of the 284$ billion U.S travel market.
Travel Weekly, speaking for the on and off-line travel agency community, comments often on the skill of the travel agent to reinvent him or herself “to stay relevant and competitive.”
Why do people use traditional travel agents at all? In a short video, Quinby promotes his paper, while pointing out that people turn to travel agents to book complex trips, cruises and specialty leisure travel experiences.
He also notes that business travelers, a huge and lucrative market, prefer to use corporate travel agents because it’s simpler, faster and more efficient than most online booking processes.
For many long-term unemployed, or those with big circles of friends and family, becoming a home-based travel agent has a strong appeal.
Sometimes, as a client of my neighborhood travel agency told me, it’s just really nice to sit and talk to someone about your trip, especially if you and your family have been looking forward to it for a long time, and you want things to go as well as they can.