Written By: Scott Koepf, V.P. of Strategic Development – Cruise Planners
If you haven’t heard the title of this article expressed before then at least you have heard various prophets of doom predict the certain demise of travel agents over the years. If not commission cuts, or direct sales by suppliers, then certainly the Internet was the inevitable death blow (or meteor, to tie in the above analogy) for travel agents. And yet, much to the chagrin of the now embarrassed soothsayers, travel agents are not only surviving, but thriving in the new world! There have even been articles recently written in major publications describing how consumers who have grown tired of the hours spent online, suffering from information overload, are coming back to travel agents.
However, where they are coming back to has changed dramatically! Even fifteen years ago, if you said you were working with a travel agent, then it was a fairly common picture that could be painted. You would go to see a local retail location with the agent working 9-5 sitting behind a desk. It was also stereotypically a dreadful sight with posters of the Greek islands from 1958 tacked on the wall, brochures strewn around, and the backs of large computer monitors between the consumer and the agent. That picture may indeed be the tyrannosaurus rex of our business. Today, in the United States, there is a very good chance when the consumer goes back to a travel agent, they are going home! Or at least to a home-based agent, who may meet the client in the agent’s home office, a local coffee shop or at the client’s own home. Depending on which study sited, there are between 30,000 and 100,000 home-based agents in the United States alone. Independent agents have been around for decades, but the terminology used to describe them has evolved over the years. From Pied Pipers to Outside Sales Agents to Independent Contractors and now Home-Based Agents, the names have changed but the entrepreneurial nature of what they do hasn’t. What has also changed is the recognition and influence they now have in the marketplace.
The retail locations of yesteryear have not all gone away and the ones that stayed are shattering the stereotypes noted above and are enticing in their own right. But there are substantially fewer of them. However, as retail outlets shrink, home based agents are expanding at a rapid pace. Why? Because it is the perfect business for the independent entrepreneur with most travel sales still made person to person (albeit not necessarily face to face due to telephones and the internet) and since there is no inventory to fill up your garage, it works.
Travel agents have beaten extinction and have evolved into a different way of doing business with tremendous success. Call travel agents dinosaurs if you like, but only if the analogy refers to their size and dominance! Next month we will look at some of the trends that travel agents have been going through or are in the midst of so we can prepare for the next Ice Age!