Travel agents are well positioned in the rebound from Covid-19: Travel Weekly

The latest research from ASTA confirms what many have seen anecdotally in recent months: a growing number of consumers understand the value of travel advisors.

ASTA said 45% of travelers agree that using an advisor would put their mind at ease. Forty-three percent are more likely to use a travel advisor than they were before the pandemic.

ASTA president and CEO Zane Kerby said that represents an “amazing opportunity for our members and anyone thinking about joining our industry.”

“It answers the question why big banks, such as JPMorgan Chase, recently entered the travel advisor business,” Kerby said. “They understand what the average consumer awakened to during the pandemic.”

Kerby spoke at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., ahead of the Society’s annual congressional fly-in, Legislative Day. Travel advisors will meet with their legislators on Wednesday to advocate for further pandemic relief for travel agencies and to build awareness of the trade. 

According to Kerby, ASTA recently undertook three studies to gather its data. Two were conducted with ASTA members and another with travelers via an online survey (travelers were defined as Americans who traveled 50 miles or more from home and spent at least one night in paid lodging since September 2019.

Results revealed that the desire to travel is “endemic to the human spirit,” he said. Removing the ability to travel during the course of the pandemic made consumers want to travel even more. 

The pandemic also revealed just how complicated travel is.

“A growing number of the traveling public understand the need for and value of working with a travel advisor,” Kerby said.

ASTA partnered with Sports & Leisure Research Group for its research. Jon Last, the company’s president, presented some more detailed findings.

According to Last, 41% plan to spend somewhat more or a lot more on leisure travel in 2023. Almost half, 49%, said they are eager to travel internationally in 2023 (that number is at 38% for the rest of this year).

Survey takers are most likely to head to Western Europe, the Caribbean or Mexico.

There are headwinds to travel, especially economically, Last said, but travel does appear to remain a priority.

Travel advisors are very busy

During a panel following the research’s unveiling, representatives of the agency community spoke about the high demand for travel.

Phones are ringing, said Kathryn Mazza-Burney, chief sales officer at Travelsavers in Oyster Bay, N.Y. Thanks to pent-up demand, accumulated wealth and enticing supplier promotions, a surge is indeed happening.

In some areas of business, Travelsavers is even seeing triple-digit growth, she said.

While Mazza-Burney does expect the surge to level off eventually, it doesn’t appear that will happen in the near future: both 2023 and 2024 are already shaping up to be solid years.

Destination weddings and graduation parties — especially multigenerational trips — have proven to be very popular right now, said Kareem George, owner of Culture Traveler in Franklin, Mich. And despite the challenges leisure travelers face right now, his clients are booking and viewing now as “a great time to travel.”

Part of that thinking likely stems from the fact that humans are social beings, posited Eric Dresin, secretary general of the European Travel Agents’ and Tour Operators’ Associations. Travel helps fulfill that social need.

Matthew Upchurch, chairman and CEO of Virtuoso, believes the surge will be further fed by the “longevity revolution.” In 2024, the last Baby Boomers will turn 60. It will be the first generation in history where 80% of the generation is expected to live another generation long, around 25 years, he said. And, 80% of that 80% is expected to do so in relative health, increasing the number of potential travelers.

Corporate business is also rebounding. 

Denise Jackson, president and CEO of Balboa Travel in San Diego, said most TMCs she’s spoken to recently are doing about 60-70% of the business they did in 2019. 

Like consumers, corporations are also experiencing a surge in travel expenses. She encouraged TMCs to work with their clients on their budgeting process over the next few years.

Marc Casto, president of leisure in the Americas for Flight Centre Travel Group, believes the surge will continue, especially as corporate travel is just beginning to restart. 

He also pointed to two other major groups whose travel has largely been restrained: the unvaccinated and China. He predicted the outbound China market, in particular, will greatly impact the industry.