The number of travel agents in the United States has been slowly dropping over the past two decades. But that’s nothing a global pandemic couldn’t fix.
The US Bureau of Labor and Statistics reported a peak of 124,000 travel agents in 2000. By 2019, that number dropped to 82,000 agents.
The paradox of a pandemic increasing travel agent’s business is unusual, but true. After global travel was halted, consumers began looking into vouchers to schedule their vacations for when restrictions began to lessen. Others chose to save.
“I do still have some people that have credits that are re-booking their vacations for this year, because a lot of credits expire in 2023,” said Janelle Throne, owner of Throne Travel in Davenport.
Here in the Quad-Cities, some travel agencies have had to bring on more staff to keep up with the high demand. Throne said the last two years were rough because fear of traveling was high. Now, she’s planning trips for as far out as 2024.
People are also reading…
Teresa Gonzalez, owner at Gulliver’s Travel Duck Creek, said she was having a few of her best years before the pandemic hit. Now, her days begin at 7 a.m. and end at 9 .m.
“The last eight months it has gone absolutely haywire,” she said.
While many chose to make their own travel plans in the past, COVID has created a whole new set of guidelines for travel. This, while troublesome for consumers, is great for travel business.
“Since the pandemic, I think people have gotten another perspective on needing a travel agent,” she said.
Marie Frandsen with KDM Travel agreed. Travel agents are able to book things faster and more efficiently than someone going it alone, they say. If a connecting flight is canceled, for example, they have direct lines to the airport to remedy the problem.
“There is a value to us,” she said.
Gonzalez said the phone has been ringing consistently, with callers inquiring from all over the Midwest. With so many agents leaving the business, it has allowed her to expand the clientele base.
Throne’s clientele is all over the map, age-wise, but group travel is hot, she said. Because COVID kept people from each other for so long, many are choosing to travel together as groups. Weddings, specifically, have kept Throne busy.
“Destination weddings are still a huge thing,” she said.
In fact, she has two leads for 2024 already. Other big trends are international travel. Europe and more exotic locations like Jamaica and the Caribbean are growing more popular as the restrictions lessen.
“This summer, everything has been about Europe,” Frandsen agreed.
The majority of her clientele, she said, are older than 50 because they have more time and money to travel. AARP reported Baby Boomers spent an average of $7,000 on travel in 2021. Gen X spent about $5,000 and millennial $4,000.
“If they’re budget minded to begin with, they’re going to stay budget-minded,” she said.
Gonzalez reported similar trends, with cruises being in high demand.
“A lot of people are trying to do bucket list things right now, because they haven’t been able to travel for a couple of years,” she said.
Requests to upgrade flights and room categories are becoming frequent, too she said. Because they had to wait so long to travel, people are willing to splurge.
But, that’s not as easy as it sounds. With airlines continuously dropping flights, travel agents are facing a new hurdle.
Airlines are not functioning with 100% of their fleets. In fact, they are being cancellations are up 11% compared to 2019, according to Reuters. Gonzalez said while this is a headache to get around, clients have been more understanding than ever when new plans have to be made.
“It seems like the clients are taking the news better than they used to,” she said.