Today’s travel landscape is drastically different from decades prior as digital has provided travelers with new ways of discovering, booking, and experiencing destinations. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that travel agents and consultants have become irrelevant and unnecessary, despite the common perception that digital tools and content have fully replaced the need for them.
A new study conducted by Signature Travel Network and The Center for Generational Kinetics examined the attitudes travelers have toward travel agents and consultants. Overall, the study found that as travelers — whether millennials or baby boomers — look to embark on more unique, curated and adventurous trips, they’re open to turning to travel consultants to help them plan, as long as the price is right and their experiences can still be one of a kind.
It’s no surprise to learn that the majority of travelers begin planning trips by researching online. According to the study, nearly 70 percent of American leisure travelers start by gathering travel information online, with women being slightly more likely than men to do so. However, the study surprisingly showed that millennials are twice as likely as those of other generations to contact a travel consultant as the first step in their research process. Fourteen percent of millennials, compared to 6 percent of baby boomers and 7 percent of Gen Xers said that contacting a travel consultant is the first step they take toward gathering information about a leisure trip.
While it’s encouraging to hear that millennials are more likely to first turn to a travel consultant early in the planning stage, the fact is, it’s still rare for travelers to use them. No matter how old they are, travelers still have a number of widely held perceptions about travel agents and consultants. The most common concern among travelers is that using a travel consultant to plan a trip will cost more than planning the trip themselves, with about half of travelers surveyed agreeing with this.
Travelers are also wary of using travel agents due to the concern that doing so will make it difficult to take unique, customized trips that fits their individual needs. The study found that nearly one-third of travelers said that not being able to customize their trips was a top reason they wouldn’t use a travel consultant, and that 28 percent of travelers were concerned that using a travel consultant means they will be sold a travel package that isn’t unique to them.
Millennials in particular want their travel experiences to be authentic and locally-focused. Knowing this, it makes sense that these younger travelers are more concerned than older travelers that using a travel consulting will result in having an overly “touristy” experience. According to the study, millennials were more than twice as likely as baby boomer and Gen X travelers to say that being unable to experience the local culture was a top concern about using a travel consultant.
There are a few things travel agents can do to appeal to travelers, young and old. First, travelers want the agents and consultants they work with to offer pricing incentives. More than half of travelers said that special pricing on trips would absolutely convince them to contact a travel consultant to get more information, while 44 percent said that information about how much money can be saved by using a travel consultant would convince them to do the same. Meanwhile, more than one-third of travelers said that special amenities such as free breakfast or other upgrades would convince them to contact a travel consultant.
Travel agents looking to appeal to travelers, especially those on the younger end of the spectrum, should also make sure their messaging gets across the fact that trips planned with the help of travel agents and consultants are able to meet the personal needs and wants of individual travelers, as well as provide local, authentic experiences. Travel agents and consultants looking to catch the attention of millennial travelers in particular should focus on marketing across social media and other digital platforms with enticing visual content. The study found that 58 percent of millennials would be convinced to follow a travel consultant on social media by great photos of places to visit, while another 56 percent would be convinced by links featuring cool places to visit.
To learn more about how travel agents and consultants can best reach travelers across generations, download Signature Travel Network’s report, “The New Travel Reality by Generation.”