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Travel agents can be a valuable channel for tour operators and destinations hoping to grow sales from North America. Outbound U.S. leisure travel is estimated to reach $120 billion, according to the UNWTO. And U.S. travel agents account for 30% of all leisure travel in that market. The United States Tour Operators Association reported in their annual travel trend and forecast survey that 87% of respondents used a travel agent to sell their products in 2015.
A lot of people think the services that travel agents provide became obsolete when online travel agencies put booking power into the hands of travelers. “At best, consumers saw booking travel through an agent as an unwarranted cost,” says Virtuoso’s CEO Matthew Upchurch, in a 2015 interview with Skift, “…But now with more and more working professionals overwhelmed with post-recession life in America, the idea of a personal travel consultant is coming back in vogue because there’s an ever increasing demand for more customized travel experiences.”
It would be easy to say “the travel agent is back!” but they never really left. They just kept being the flexible, service-oriented specialists they always were and adapted to a rapidly changing market. Just last October, in American Express Travel’s “Future of Travel Report,” 9 out of 10 respondents indicated that “using a travel professional completely or somewhat enhanced their travel experiences.”
Why Travel Agents?
Take a look online, travel agents are far from gone. What they are doing is changing and becoming that intimate friend who plans a trip for you. They know you and they know MORE than you about where you are going. Time to learn how to best play in that sandbox.
“Look, unless you have a reliable source, it’s pretty hard to plan your own trip,” says Absolute Travel’s Ken Fish in Gear Patrol. “Unless you’re really prepared to manage your trip from beginning to end…to get up in the morning and answer every question: Is that really the best hotel, or just by reputation? What’s the right room? Do you know anyone there? Will they give you a special experience, or just know you by name when you arrive?” Read more…
So, it’s clear that travel agents are staying on top of the roller-coaster like trends of the past 15 years and now tour operators — who are looking to understand what it is exactly that travel agents have gotten so good at — will have an opportunity to learn and network with a group of travel agents focused on the adventure tourism niche. During the ATTA’s AdventureELEVATE conference this June in Saguenay, Quebec, 20 – 30 travel agents and tour operators will attend a workshop geared toward educating operators on best practices when utilizing agents as a sales channel. Essential partnership expectations will be covered as well as how suppliers and operators can best prepare agents to match travelers with travel experiences.
Key to the delivery of that workshop is facilitating roundtable discussions that focus on some of the issues often debated when travel agent best practices are considered:
- Does a travel agent vet the traveler? How do they decide if a trip is right for a traveler or if a traveler is right for a trip? What activities does the traveler enjoy and what type of accommodation? How important are amenities to them? Well trained travel agents can help match clients to products, ensuring a good experience for everyone.
- What commission is normal for a tour operator / travel agent transaction? Should commission be tiered based on productivity? When do you pay out: year end? before the trip? or after? Do you pay commission on all aspects of a trip? Do travel agents charge fees to travelers? The workshop will cover important questions around commissions and payments to meet the business needs of all parties.
- Are webinars, sales visits and familiarization trips important? What is the best investment mix in education when considering what works best for the travel agents.
- Who owns the traveler relationship? Is it the travel agent, the tour operator, or both? Discussion will focus around how to negotiate traveler-related communications before, during and after the journey.
The workshop, led by Liz Cherne of Travel Leaders, will introduce adventure operators to some of the top travel agents in the US who sell in the active and adventure market. In 2015, the ATTA engaged in a partnership with Travel Leaders to offer their agents an Active & Adventure Travel Specialty Training Program, part of a commitment from both organizations to keep the relationship between tour operators and travel advisors relevant and beneficial, especially within the adventure travel space.