Frequently Asked QuestionsASTA Press Kit-News-ASTA

Frequently Asked Questions

Travel Agents by the Numbers

Role of Travel Agents

What is the role of the travel agent and how has it changed?
Travel agents work hard on behalf of the consumer. The role of a travel agent is to make a trip - whether for work or pleasure - a stress-free and memorable experience. Travel agents spend time not only booking tickets and searching for affordable prices, but also personalizing their services for individual clients. ASTA’s motto, "Without a Travel Agent, You're on Your Own," exemplifies the importance and way professional travel agents view their role in today's changing market.

The job of a travel agent has grown and adapted to reflect the changes within the travel industry and the difference in the way people think about travel. ASTA travel agents recognize that consumers today have done their homework and are more knowledgeable about what they want. Clients who turn to an ASTA travel agent desire an in-depth, personal approach and want the advice and expertise of a professional. This is why an ASTA travel agent:

  • Distills product information to provide their clients with the most competitive options;
  • Stays abreast of the most current and timely promotions;
  • Clarifies the fine print, such as cancellation penalties and restrictions;
  • Makes recommendations on travel-related options;
  • Simplifies the research and subsequent transaction;
  • Enhances the trip with value-added benefits and amenities;
  • Uses their clout to obtain the best possible arrangements in seemingly impossible situations; and
  • Gets problems resolved.

How many travel agencies are there in the U.S.?
The Airlines Reporting Corporation (ARC) reports there are 9,386 travel agency firms operating 15,671 retail locations (March 2010). While this represents a significant portion of the travel agencies operating in the United States, there are additional travel agencies focused on leisure retail sales that do not sell air services and are not included in this count.

What is ARC?
ARC is rhe US airline industry organization which appoints travel agents in the United States and processes air travel sales. ARC issues the ID numbers termed “ARC numbers” to accredited US agents which are used by other industry sectors (i.e., cruise, tour, hotel and car, etc.) for business recognition.  

How many travel agents are there in the U.S.?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the travel agency industry employees 105,300 full time travel agents (May 2008).  PhoCusWright estimates there are an additional 30,000 Independent Contractors that typically sell travel from home.


Agents & the Internet

How is the Internet affecting the travel industry?
The Internet has helped transform the travel industry. It helps educate the consumer by providing vast amounts of information about destinations and different travel options. Both consumers and travel professionals have benefited from the Internet, which makes the possibility of travel to exotic places more imaginable. It has helped consumers see in full color and, in some cases, real time, where they would like to visit. The Internet gives travelers the ability to do comparative shopping for attractive deals or packages. It also has helped many travel agencies, hotels, resorts and other travel-related suppliers flourish by bringing in business through Web sites.

What are the benefits of using a travel agent compared to the Internet?
The Internet can be a powerful tool. It can increase the scope and reach of a consumer's efforts and allow a person to check hundreds of options or research destinations in depth. But to make the Internet work effectively, a person has to understand where to look and what questions to ask, otherwise hours can be wasted surfing the Web and ultimately produce unsatisfactory results. This is where a travel agent can make a world of difference.

A professional travel agent is trained to guide a client through the entire process of planning a trip, whether for business or for leisure. Travel agents take classes, participate in seminars, become destination specialists and join professional associations, such as ASTA, in order to ensure they make each client's travel experience as personalized, convenient and memorable as possible. When planning a business trip or family vacation, the Internet can be a valuable resource, but it cannot replace the expertise and guidance of a travel agent. Also, during travel crises, the Internet can't replace a human being who will persist to help a client get restitution.

Will the Internet replace the need for travel agents?
There are some things technology cannot replicate, and the personal touch is one of them. The Internet is a valuable resource, but it cannot replace the expertise, guidance and personal service of a travel agent. At a time when travelers are stressed out with hectic schedules, travel agents have all of the information at their fingertips, saving valuable hours of surfing on the Web. Agents also can offer insider tips based on personal experience.


Travel Trends

How has the travel industry changed, and what factors affect travel?
Over time, the leisure  travel industry has become price driven. Many people today base a large part of their travel buying decisions on cost and convenience. Additionally, more people are booking closer in to their travel dates. Thanks to dramatic discounting across the industry, consumers have been conditioned to wait until the last minute before booking in hopes of securing a deeply discounted package deal. However, increasingly, as personal time is in increasingly short demand, people are  once again finding the value of working with a professional travel agent to make their vacation plans.


Travel Agent Business Trends

Feb 1995: Domestic commission cap of $50 roundtrip / Led by Delta

Sept 1997: Commissions cut to 8 percent / Led by United

Nov 1998: International commission cap of $100 roundtrip / Led by United

Oct 1999: Commission cut to 5 percent / Led by United

Aug 2001:Domestic commission cap reduction to $20 / Led by American

Mar 2002: U.S. carriers eliminate commissions / Led by Delta

April 2006:Large reduction of GDS incentives / led by legacy airlines

What is the history of commission cuts and how are travel agents adjusting to them?After decades of offering travel agents a standard commission of at least 10 percent with no cap, many of the larger airline carriers in the United States stopped paying base commissions to travel agents, beginning in March 2002. ASTA sees the elimination of base payments to agents on the part of air carriers as anti-consumer and as a missed business opportunity. Consumers value the services and unbiased expertise offered by professional agents who represent an impartial source of information for travelers. Travel agents have and will survive in the new marketplace, because consumers know the value they provide.

While there has been contraction and consolidation of brick-and-mortar travel agencies, the number of travel agents has remained fairly steady. Some travel agencies have grown and improved their businesses through new business practices. For example, many travel agencies have focused on providing an increased value to their customers by becoming experts or specialists in certain types of travel or specific destinations. Some agencies have implemented new services that add value to client transactions, such as tracking of frequent flyer accounts or discounted upgrades.

Do travel agents charge service fees? How much? How has this changed?
Most do charge fees. Since 1998, the number of agencies charging service fees on one or more product line has increased from 64 percent to more than 91% percent in 2009. The most common fee charged is a service fee for airline ticket procurement services. On average, ASTA travel agencies charge their customers $36 for providing this service. Agencies also often charge fees for other services such as trip research, Amtrak, car rental and hotel-only reservations.

What percentage of airline tickets, rental cars, cruises and hotel rooms are sold by travel agents?
When it comes to booking travel, travel agents are experienced professionals. Travel agents sell:

85 percent of cruises
70 percent of all tours and packages
50 percent of all airline tickets
30 percent of all hotels
25 percent of all car rentals
Source: 2008 PhoCusWright Travel Agency Distribution Landscape Report

How do travel agents use the Internet?
The Internet has become an integral part of almost every travel agency. It has become more than just a research tool, it has become a business-to-business booking tool.

What is the average salary of a travel agent?
In May 2008, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average annual compensation was $30,570.


Selecting a Travel Agent

How do I choose a travel agent that's right for me?
Every travel agency is different and accordingly, some are better suited to a given consumer than others. Here are some tips on choosing a travel agent who is right for you.

Go with the Pros: Look for the ASTA label. Through its continuing education and training programs, ASTA prepares its members to operate high-caliber, competitive businesses.

Ask Around: Tap friends, neighbors and relatives who use an agent they trust. You may want to visit or call several agencies to find the one that best suits your needs. Consider everything from the appearance of the office to the agent's willingness to listen and answer questions. The best agents want to establish a long-term relationship with a client, not just make one sale.

Ask about Fees: Good agents will notify their clients of any additional fees, including service fees, up front. Doing otherwise is pointless, as the fee will appear as a separate charge on the client's credit card bill.

Search the Web: Go to TravelSense (http://www.travelsense.org/) and use the "Find an Agent" tool. Search for agents with expertise in destinations or specific subjects that interest you.

Check Credentials: Many agents have been trained in business management, travel and tourism or geography. Others have supplemented their agency experience with extensive education and training courses. Some travel agents are Certified Travel Counselors (CTC) through the Travel Institute or Master Cruise Counselors (MCC) through the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA).

Find Out an Agency's Track Record: Go online to ASTA.org and verify whether a travel agent is an ASTA member or not. Also, check with the local Better Business Bureau, while keeping in mind they will only have records of agencies that have had reports filed against them.


Useful Links

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