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There are a lot of nuances and niches here, but the big writing has been on the wall for a long time time.
Editor’s Note: Two weeks ago we launched a new weekly survey series “Skift Asks“, to test out the assumptions travel industry insiders have on various consumer travel issues, trying to bridge the disconnect between the industry and consumers. See previous Skift Asks here.
Important: The survey is not done on Skift readers, but general U.S. internet adult population, through Google Consumer Surveys.
This week we asked consumers a somewhat retro and existential question: “Have you used a travel agent to plan a leisure trip in the past year?” The answer won’t come as a surprise to most of the world — except maybe travel agents — but the one-sidedness of the response surely shocked us. Almost 90 percent of them said no, and variation for various demographic factors across United States is minor, if at all.
Some background is needed here: We asked about leisure brick-and-mortar travel agents, not business/corporate travel, and not about online travel agents (the OTA, the so-called booking sites like Priceline, Expedia and others).
And that’s not to say travel agents are completely going away, or are even blind to this existential crisis: many of them are morphing into specialized agents, focused on niches such as luxury travel, adventure travel, offbeat travel, or focus on sectors such as cruises only. Some of them are positioning themselves as travel concierges with digital planning and booking and extra handholding services to guide the consumers.
But the big picture is clear: travel agents and their boosters need to realize the decline curve, learn how to manage it, and transition into ancillary and niche businesses, maybe even in conjunction with the larger online players.
This single-question survey was administered to the U.S. internet population from Aug 8-Aug 11, through Google Consumer Surveys, with 1505 responses. The methodology is explained here.
Takeaway: Well, do we have to spell it out?
Takeaway: Women have used travel agents a tiny bit more than men over the last year in U.S.
Takeaway: Small surprise here that the millennial generation seems to be slightly more open to using travel agents, perhaps overwhelmed by online choices, though the sample size on that is small and margin of error high.
Takeaway: Pretty even spread of answers across continental U.S.
Takeaway: Rural America has a slightly more charitable view on using travel agents, though only tiny bit more.
Takeaway: Richer Americans may be using travel agents more, presumably to book more luxury, escorted tours and trips.