Where Have All the Travel Agents Gone?
The demand for travel advisors is surging, but the number of advisors available is at an all-time low
The resurgence of travel over the past few months has brought with it a series of both expected and unexpected consequences. Surges in airfare, the ever-changing landscape of destination-based COVID requirements, cancellations and delays, a shortage of rental cars, a shortage of flight attendants … It’s a lot to try navigate on your own. Subsequently, there’s also been an increase in the demand for travel advisors (aka agents). Unfortunately there’s a shortage of those, too.
Per a new report from Skift, there’s been an uptick in interest from consumers to plan their trips through agencies. According to one study from the American Society of Travel Advisors and Sandals Resorts from this May past, only 27 percent of travelers surveyed prior to the pandemic reported always having used a travel advisor. Post-pandemic, 44 percent of travelers who had seldom, or never, relied on a travel advisor in the past found themselves suddenly more inclined to do so.
For a variety of reasons, those plans wound up falling flat. Chief among them? There just aren’t enough travel advisors.
Many travel agencies are reportedly citing “financial difficulties” for the scarce number of travel advisors. “I am frantically trying to hire,” President of Time For Travel Sarah Kline told Skift.
That said, Rashaad Jorden wrote, “there are plenty of openings to fill.”
“In 2020, 62 percent of travel advisors in the U.S. were either laid off or furloughed,” he added. “But a survey of close to 300 advisors conducted by TravelAge West found that only 28 percent of travel agencies were hiring although 35 percent of them reported having fewer agents on the payroll than prior to the pandemic. In addition, 77 percent of respondents said they didn’t know of other agencies that were hiring.”
It’s worth noting that the notion that the death of the travel agent has been predicted for years. Thanks largely in part to the third-party booking-site boom, most consumers — particularly the younger, more tech-savvy ones — regard travel advisors as unnecessary. Another study from TravelAge West found that of the 280 advisors they surveyed, only 8% percent had worked with more than five people under the age of 30.
Now, with circumstances being what they are, many are coming back around to the idea of outsourcing their travel logistics. But they’re being met with a paucity of options, and many of those who are available are overworked and under-supported by the industry as a whole. Thus, despite demand, it’s actually in some ways an unattractive and unpredictable time for new advisors to enter the field.
As far as when things might turn around? It’s hard to say. Perhaps 2022 will give rise to the travel advisor. Or, alternatively, perhaps 2022 is when the profession will come to a definitive end — at least in its current form.
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