Family Travel Association encourages agents to share what they do with others. // © 2017 Family Travel Association
Feature image (above): Travelers who work with agents are much more likely to have a favorable opinion of the profession. // © 2017 Getty Images
Travel agents are having a public identity crisis. In years past, there was a travel agency on every corner. Changing market forces, however, saw many of them morph into home-based enterprises, invisible to consumers but not — as many believe — out of business.
On the contrary, travel agent services are proving to be as vital as ever. So, why aren’t more families using them?
In the “2017 U.S. Family Travel Survey” — the third annual study conducted by the Family Travel Association (FTA) in partnership with the NYU School of Professional Studies Tisch Center for Hospitality and Tourism — we asked families to grade different sectors of the family travel industry. Using a five-point scale that translated into report card “grades” from A to F, survey respondents provided feedback about how well travel advisors, airlines, tour operators, cruise lines, accommodations, restaurants, online booking companies and car rental firms are doing in serving traveling families’ needs.
Travel agents received a below-average C+, tying with airlines for the worst score in the lot.
However, respondents included people with no experience of a particular product or service; therefore they shared their impressions of agents, not necessarily their experiences with them. With that in mind, we analyzed data from other questions to ascertain whether respondents with direct agent experiences rated them higher.
Indeed, this proved to be the case: The 25 percent of survey respondents who had used travel advisors in the past five years gave them a B+, the top score of all.
Answers to another question — about why respondents had, or had not, booked via a travel agent — help explain why. Not surprisingly, the primary reason for avoiding advisors is the perceived high cost of using an agent. Another was the worry that meeting with an advisor would take too much time.
Presumably then, the 25 percent of respondents who did use agents and graded them higher found the advisors to be less costly and time-consuming than expected.
This finding, bolstered by the disparity between the two grades, should serve as a rallying cry about the clear value agents bring to family travel planning. It can be a boon to advisors who routinely talk about the advantages they offer, and an inducement to the families who haven’t fully grasped how an agent can save them time and money.
Spreading this message may be just what is needed to help get travel agents from a B+ to an A.
For more, search for “2017 U.S. Family Travel Survey” on the FTA’s website.