The American Society of Travel Agents’ (ASTA) responded to survey results distributed last week by market research company Synovate regarding how Americans book air travel and accommodations. Contrary to a statement made by Synovate regarding travel agent marginalization, other industry surveys show that the majority of travelers still prefer to use travel agents to book airlines and hotels.
“You can find data to support almost any claims about the future of the travel agent industry,” said ASTA President and CEO Kathryn W. Sudeikis, CTC. “People have been announcing the demise of the industry for years, yet travel agents have survived some really tough years, and thrived. Travel agents are not just about selling air tickets anymore, they’re about being there for consumers before, during and after a trip and when the unexpected happens.”
In contrast to Synovate’s research, the U.S. Department of Commerce recently released statistics from their Survey of International Air Travelers that show that leisure and business travelers typically choose to book with travel agents over other options. In its report on U.S. Resident Traveler Characteristics (2004), the office found 43 percent of all U.S. travelers booked air with a travel agent, while 21 percent booked over the Internet and 19 percent directly with the airline. And, 43 percent of leisure travelers booked with travel agents, 23 percent on the Internet, and 21 percent directly with the airline. For business travelers, 14 percent booked air online, while 41 percent booked with a travel agent and 15 percent booked directly with the airline.
When getting travel information, 40 percent went to travel agents and 33 percent went to the Internet. Other information sources included the airlines themselves, friends and relatives, company travel departments, trade guides, tour companies, newspapers/magazines and state/city travel offices.
Sudeikis added, “The Internet is a valuable resource when planning a trip but it cannot replace the expertise and guidance of a travel agent. Agents today invest in their own Web sites to help consumers book travel. The Internet has made for more satisfied traveling consumers and more effective travel consultants by providing instant access to knowledge and resources.”