Research by a major US travel marketing company has shown a 50% increase in the numbers of travellers who plan to use a travel agent on their next trip – a dramatic revelation that stands on its head any predictions of a decline in use of travel agents.
Steve Cohen, vice president of insights at MMGY, which describes itself as “the largest integrated marketing firm in travel” told US publication Travel Market Report that MMGY research over the past three or four years had shown a “huge jump” in travellers planning to use an agent – and the trend was particularly marked this year.
MMGY found that use of travel agents in the US was at a six-year high, a trend being driven not by the Baby Boomer generation but by the much younger Millennials.
Millennials, usually defined as the tech-savvy generation born between 1982 and 2000 (so aged 16 to 35, roughly), are often associated with technology and social media – and the research showed that 34% of them reported using a travel agent. The more money they spent on travel, the more likely they were to use an agent. The finding indicates that they know the value of professional advice.
While just 16% of American travellers used a traditional travel agent during the past 12 months – and planned to do so during the next two years – that proportion is up five percentage points since 2011 and according to MMGY it’s “significantly higher than each of the previous five years”.
Travellers who use agents do so frequently, for 50% of their travel. Research shows the typical American travel agency customer to be lucrative: 39 years old, married with children, with an annual household income of USD 145,875 (AUD 194,032). The typical customer users agents mainly because they value expertise, trust and ease; but 86% also say that using an agent gives them more control over their trip, and 79% believe a travel agent will find the best price.
Cohen told Travel Market Report “word of mouth” was the main way travellers learned about the travel agent they used – quite surprising in an era of social media and mass communication.
In the online sphere, MMGY found that American travellers have typically turned to travel supplier websites for inspiration and have relied heavily on online travel agents for booking.
“However, our research shows that these roles are reversing. When looking for travel and inspiration for their next vacation, just 18% of travellers turn to brand.com sites, down six points from 2015. However, 21% turn to online travel agents during this phase of the purchase path. Likewise, 32% of travellers prefer to book directly from travel suppliers, compared to 31% who book on online travel agent sites.
“There are other signs of this role reversal, as well:
- Half of all travellers who flew to their vacation destinations during the past 12 months typically booked their flights through an airline website or app, while only a third used an online travel agent website or app.
- 40% of travellers now typically book accommodations through a hotel website or app, while only a third booked through an online travel agent website or app.”
Written by Peter Needham