The Travel Agent Industry: Disappearing or Evolving?

This post is an entry for our $25,000 scholarship contest. The post was created by Gabriel Connor Salter and may not always reflect the views of JW Surety Bonds.  

In the last few years, many people have said the travel agency industry is going away. After all, most airline companies and hotels today have Internet sites where customers can buy tickets, book rooms and even get travel recommendations by themselves. Travel agents seem to be obsolete middlemen in this process, another one of the many careers new technology is replacing along with salespeople, factory workers, and other jobs the Huffington Post and Forbes report are disappearing because companies are relying more on computers and automated machines.

But are these facts legitimate proof that travel agencies are dying? Actually, some of the evidence suggests otherwise. Consider the fact that this year, after over a decade of travel agency jobs fading away, reports that travel agency ticket sales have increased by 5.15 percent and that the travel agency industry is recovering from the number of jobs lost during the 2008 Recession even faster than the rest of the U.S. economy. A few professionals in this industry, namely the American Society of Travel Agents and Kathy Gerhard of Travel Leaders Group, have even argued that computers are not replacing travel agents; Gerhard points out that many people still use agents because they need someone to process the travel information they get online, and the ASTA contends that the Internet helps travel agents because it creates new areas to advertise.

Still, that doesn’t change the fact that since 2000, the number of full-time travel agents in the U.S. has decreased by more than half. travel-agent-decrease

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Kathy Gerhard has argued this reduction is partly due to less serious agents or “hobbyists” leaving the business and the rumors that the travel agency industry is dying have scared many young people away from becoming agents. However, these don’t seem likely to be the primary reasons for such a dramatic shift – after all, wouldn’t someone have noticed by now if half of all American travel agents were just hobbyists?

What seems more likely is that the critics are right, the Internet is making it more difficult for the travel agency industry to succeed, but it will continue to survive if there are agents willing to strive and adapt to changes. One of these changes, obviously, will be a smaller market where the Internet both helps agents, letting them advertise services and process information for their clients, and create competition as customers choose websites to book travels over personal consultants. Because of this smaller market, another big change will be the need for travel agents to specialize; the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Outlook Occupational Handbook states that the most successful travel agents in the future will be agents who “specialize in specific destinations or particular types of travelers,” an opinion shared by travel and telecommunications consultant Michael Strauss in his 2010 book Value Creation in Travel Distribution (1).

There’s no doubt that as digital technology gets more advanced, many traditional careers in the U.S. are going to change, maybe even disappear. The travel agency industry is clearly going through such a change, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to vanish entirely. In fact, it may be more worthwhile to become a travel agent today than it was a decade ago because for those people who can stick with it, the smaller market has created higher salaries (as seen in this graph). As travel agents specialize in different areas and use the Internet to their advantage, it will be very interesting to see just how the industry evolves in the next few years.


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  1. Strauss, Michael. Value Creation in Travel Distribution. Lulu Press, Inc.: Raleigh, NC. 2010.

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