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American Express Travel Survey: Internet, Friend or Foe of Travel Agents?

October 17, 2013 Corporate No Comments Email Email

American Express Travel, a leading global provider of consumer travel and related services, today released findings from a recent survey of its travel counselors, which queried the experts on travel trends for 2014.

The survey of nearly 200 travel counselors sought to uncover the impact the Internet has had within the travel professional community as well as the latest trends in customer buying behavior. The survey shows not only an increase in customers booking and spending more with travel professionals, but that perceived challenges, such as the Internet, have in fact bolstered the industry.EGT_Artical Banner B 250x250

Internet Leads to Travel Counselor Efficiency, Consumers Overwhelmed

Travel counselors, both new and tenured, are quick to note the impact the Internet has had on the industry. More than half of survey respondents (61%) strongly agree that the Internet has made their jobs more efficient, providing them with greater access to more content and information to serve customers. Consumer access to travel information and recommendations via the internet has also created a shift in the traveler-travel agent relationship, with 52% of travel counselors strongly agreeing that consumers are more knowledgeable than ever before, with many doing their own research.

“Smart, savvy travel professionals are harnessing the power of the Internet to create extraordinary experiences for their customers,” says Tony Gonchar, vice president of the U.S. Representative Network at American Express Travel. “As technology advances, so do expectations. Customers are digital omnivores, consuming information across multiple devices, 24 hours-a-day, from hundreds – even thousands – of sources. Our travel counselors are able to help customers cut through the information overload to create the ultimate travel experience.”

Specialization is Future of Industry

As consumers seek more qualified information and insider recommendations, agents have had to embrace specialization. More than a third of respondents (38%) feel a deep knowledge of a particular destination or travel experience, such as family, culinary, or adventure travel, will be the most important tool in their arsenal as the travel industry evolves over the next five years. “More information does not necessarily lead to better decision-making,” says Gonchar. “Consumers are overwhelmed by the wealth of travel material and crave guidance and expertise. Our travel counselors give a level of personalization and expertise that customers can’t just search on the Internet.”

Booking Further Out and Farther Away

As travel counselors continue to be valued for their ability to customize trips, they are noticing other positive signs within the industry, including the fact that 75% of their business is from long-term relationships and referrals. In addition, 43% of the survey’s respondents reported customers were booking travel further ahead in 2014 (vs. 2013) and 92% said their customers were planning to spend at least as much, if not more, on trips in 2014 (vs. 2013). With extra budget slated for vacations, travelers are planning to visit more exotic locales, with 54% of travel counselors seeing a growing preference for international destinations. Among the places with the highest demand: Southeast Asia, Rio de Janeiro, New Zealand, Croatia and Costa Rica. Arts and culture remain key drivers for vacation decisions according to 32% of respondents, followed by ultra-luxury travel (27%), culinary travel (21%) and adventure travel (16%). Cruising will also continue to make waves, with 42% reporting that more travelers are cruising in 2014 and an impressive 76% of respondents noting the continued trend towards river cruising.

The results of this survey were revealed during the American Express Retail Travel Learning Forum and National Summit, Oct. 10-16, 2013. This invitation-only, six-day event was created to enhance the skill set and tools available to participating agents and illustrate the longstanding benefits of membership to the American Express Travel U.S. Representative Network.

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