ASTA Shows Value of Travel Agents

Alexandria, VA—The American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) released the findings of “ASTA 2000,” an ambitious five-part research survey to explore the integration of the Internet into agency businesses and the Society. The research project is the first phase of ASTA’s new plan to help its members compete in the technologically-driven travel marketplace.
Although more leisure travelers sought information from 800 numbers and the Internet than from travel agents, travel agents remain the preferred method of booking air and cruise travel, according to consumer surveys conducted by Kerr & Downs Research Inc.
When researching and booking travel, consumers might research their options on the Internet, but many end up making the actual reservations some place else, often with a travel agent. For example, when looking at air travel; only 51 out of 100 consumers that researched air fares on the Internet actually booked their flights on the Internet. This compares with those who used a travel agent to research fares. Out of 100 consumers that use an agent to research air travel, 85 made reservations through the travel agent.
The “Look/Book” ratio for travel agents exceeds that of the Internet across all travel categories.
Air

-Travel Agents: 85 percent

-Internet: 51 percent

Hotel

-Travel agents: 84 percent

-Internet: 50 percent

Cruise

-Travel agents: 88 percent

-Internet : 33 percent

Car

-Travel agents: 85 percent

-Internet: 55 percent



The research also found that travel agents are the preferred method when booking family vacations, complex itineraries and international travel.

When comparing travel agents with the Internet, consumers said that travel agents are more convenient, do all the work and allow them to talk to a person. The Internet, on the other hand, is available on nights and weekends, offers more options and gives the consumer greater control. However, leisure travelers do have trust concerns when using the Internet, citing security, difficulty finding information and not trusting the information online as issues.
The research project utilized member surveys, member group interviews, non-member focus groups, a consumer telephone survey and existing travel industry data to create a complete picture of the technology landscape. This will be the basis for the Society’s future plans.
A consumer telephone study was conducted by Kerr & Downs Research, Inc., in the spring. The agency research was carried out by ASTA’s research department and Plog Research in Reseda, Calif. ASTA also called upon its research family of 500 members to assess the level of technology being used in agencies today.
“Our research shows that frequent travelers value and appreciate the convenience and expertise an agent offers. We also found that our members are stepping up to the challenge and opportunities afforded by new technology and using the Internet in their daily operations for email, client communications, research and even booking travel with suppliers,” said ASTA President and CEO Joe Galloway said, “This research project will be the cornerstone for all the important initiatives we undertake in the coming months. The message is clear: we must waste no time in further integrating the Internet into our businesses and our Society.”
In examining agencies use of technology, One portion of the study, the ASTA 2000 Automation survey, found that the proportion of ASTA members using in their daily operation is rapidly increasing. The use of Internet in ASTA agencies has steadily grown throughout the last five years, from 24 percent in 1995 to 89.3 percent this spring. If this growth continues at the same pace almost all ASTA agencies will be online by 2001, ASTA predicts.
Over half of ASTA members (52 percent) have their own agency web site. This constitutes a slight increase from the percentage of agencies with a web site as measured in February 1999 (52 percent in 2000 vs. 49.4 percent in 1999). Of the agencies that do not have a web site yet, 56 percent plan on developing one in the course of this year. This means that 79 percent of ASTA agencies could have web sites within one year’s time.
The vast majority of agencies with Internet access use the Internet for travel or business related research. Most popular forms of research include destinations (97.5 percent), travel suppliers (75.9 percent) and information on weather, traffic, etc (70.1 percent). Agents increasingly use the Internet to obtain visa information and travel warnings issued by the US State Department. The internet is also a good source for information on cruise lines, Rail Europe and to obtain maps of the customers’ destinations.
Other findings in the automation report includes:

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Almost nine out of ten ASTA agencies use e-mail in their offices.

This constitutes a 66 percent increase over three years.

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Most agencies (82.4 percent) have at least one personal computer in their office.

On average agencies have three personal computers.

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The vast majority of respondents (85.6 percent) lease their GDS equipment and nearly all agencies use only one type of CRS.



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The well-established five-year standard length for CRS contracts remains in effect.

However, more than three in 10 agencies are able to negotiate shorter contracts, with 26.4 percent of agencies signing three-year contracts with their GDS vendors. Two years ago only 9.3 percent of respondents signed a three-year contract.
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Of the agencies that report to have difficulties meeting their contract segment production, 69.1 percent have contacted their GDS provider concerning their agreement.

Over three quarters of agencies (78.9 percent) report that their attempt to either renegotiate the contract or to request a concession had some measure of success while 17 percent say their attempt was completely fruitless.

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Over half (55.1 percent) of agencies plan to seek competing bids from other GDS vendors when their contracts expire.

When shopping around for vendors price is the dominating factor according to 65.3 percent of respondents. Those who used an attorney to negotiate were more likely to receive incentives and less likely to pay penalties.
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Of all agencies only 28.1 percent has ever contacted an attorney for legal advice before negotiating or signing a GDS contract.

Agencies that used the assistance of an attorney are slightly more likely to receive incentives/credits when booking more than the required number of segments and are slightly less likely to pay penalties in case of shortfall. In addition, agencies that have used attorneys are more likely to receive incentives when signing the new contract including a lower average required segment count.

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Nearly all ASTA agencies (98.4 percent) issue electronic tickets to their clients.

Agencies reporting ticketless travel use increased substantially over the past five years. Only about half (53 percent) of agencies issued electronic tickets in 1995, increasing to 70 percent in 1996, to 93 percent in 1998 and 98.4 percent in 2000.

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E-ticketing has increased in popularity amongst travel agencies.

In 1998, 59 percent of respondents actively encouraged their clients to use an electronic ticket when making reservations. Now, two years later over two thirds of agencies (69.6 percent) report to encourage ticketless travel.

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ASTA agencies report that on average about 58 percent of tickets issued are electronic with a median of 60 percent.

Airline Reporting Corp. figures confirm these results.
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