The travel industry has had its share of ups and downs in recent years, thanks to high unemployment, economic uncertainty, political turmoil abroad and the public’s embrace of technology and the Internet.
However, the skies appear increasingly bluer for travel agents, many of whom are experiencing greater traffic and revenue.
The American Society of Travel Agents released its Leisure Trends Report earlier this year and determined that a large percentage of leisure-based travel agencies saw increased revenue (51 percent) and transactions (49 percent) last year compared to 2009, a positive trend that agents expect to continue through 2011 when 94 percent expect to make a profit.
Locally, several travel agents report that business is booming, with consumers seeking their services to book longer vacations to more exotic destinations.
According to Alvilda Jones of Inspired Travel in Stone Mountain, 2011 is shaping up to be a good year.
“I am seeing a lot more people using travel agents again,” said Jones, who runs a home-based travel business.
Jones said customers are booking longer vacations and venturing farther from home.
Before the recession, she said one- to two-week trips were routine. That changed to three- to four-day vacations during the recession.
“Now it’s five to eight days as well as taking more deluxe vacations,” she said. “Instead of saying ‘I need the cheapest thing’ now they are looking for quality.”
Celia Gardner, owner of Travelfaire of Dunwoody, has been in the travel industry for 28 years. Escorted tours as well as independent travel are two areas in which her company specializes.
“What we are seeing is more new clients coming in,” said Gardner. “Our regular clients never really stopped traveling.”
Both Jones and Gardner agree that while the Internet is a useful tool for gathering travel information, the counsel and expertise of a travel agent is invaluable.
“We treat clients like family. We are hand-holders. We want them back,” said Gardner.
Gardner cautions those who rely on the Internet for all their travel planning that when problems arise “you are on your own.”
“They are looking at prices. They aren’t looking at quality,” said Gardner of online travel shoppers.
She points out that travel agents can fix problems that arise during a trip as well as get reimbursements for parts of an itinerary that aren’t up to par or not delivered.
Jones said travel agents have priceless product knowledge and can offer advice about which cruise lines are best for specific families or individuals.
Jones, who specializes in the Caribbean and travels there every other month evaluating properties, noted that many destinations, properties and cruises are particularly friendly to specific demographics, citing families, couples and gays and lesbians.
“Most people when they go online they are just looking at price,” said Jones.
Jones said travel agents also provide recommendations on places to go and warnings about places (and activities) to avoid.
And when inclement weather hits—as it did several weeks ago during a hurricane—a relationship with a travel agent can be precious. Jones noted that during that storm one cruise line had to leave a port early in Puerto Rico because the port was shutting down and several of the ship’s passengers who were on shore excursions were left.
“A lot [of them] didn’t have a travel agent and had to fend for themselves,” she said. “The ones that had a good travel agent got help with lodging and had a liaison between the clients and the cruise line to recover losses. We save people tons of time, especially in problem resolution.”