Skift Take

Don’t discount the need for travel agents in the future of travel. Two recent surveys show Americans increasingly want to utilize a travel advisor’s services for post-pandemic vacationing.

Travel behaviors across all segments of the market shifted during the pandemic, but one change with family travelers is good news for the travel advisor market.

The 2021 U.S. Family Travel Survey conducted by the Family Travel Association in partnership with New York University’s School of Professional Studies outlines the various impacts of the pandemic on family travel behaviors. Some of the emerging trends may sound similar: Domestic travel demand, especially to outdoor destinations, significantly outweighs international travel demand.

But a massive surge in interest toward making trip plans through a travel agent is one of the leading findings through the survey.

“The people who actually work with travel agents still tend to be in the minority, but an ever-increasing number of people are saying that they would consider using a travel advisor going forward,” Lynn Minnaert, a clinical associate professor at NYU’s Jonathan M. Tisch Center of Hospitality, told Skift ahead of the release of the survey findings this week.

Learn more about the findings of the 2021 U.S. Family Travel Survey at Skift Global Forum in NYC September 21-23

While only 17 percent of family travelers used an advisor to help with bookings over the last two years, 65 percent of respondents in the survey said they would consider using one over the next two years. Thirty-one percent of the respondents said the pandemic directly impacted their decision to consider using a travel advisor.

The study, conducted in June and July, polled 2,365 parents across the U.S.

The continued uncertainty around the travel industry’s reopening is a driving factor behind the increase in interest in booking via a travel advisor. It’s much easier to deal with cancellations and chasing after refunds when someone else is doing it on your behalf, the thinking goes.

Demand for international travel and cruises remains weak for families. Only 22 percent of respondents in the survey said they expected to spend more on international travel in the next 12 months compared to 44 percent who said they anticipated spending more on domestic travel. Interest in cruises declined from 36 percent of the respondents in the 2019 survey to 10 percent this year.

But family travelers are more likely to use a travel agent on both types of trips when they do come back, Minnaert said. International travel got a boost this week when the U.S. announced plans to reopen borders to vaccinated travelers arriving from abroad. Several European countries and the UK already opened their borders to U.S. travelers, but American reciprocity was a major sticking point in maintaining open borders.

Larger family trips, whether domestic or international, are also areas where Minnaert anticipates more outreach to travel agents.

“[Interest in travel agents is] an area where we’ve seen the more complex the booking needs of families get — for example, when you’re looking at multi-generational or skip-generational travel — that’s also where travel agents often play a role, because now you’re coordinating different family units that all need to travel together,” she added.

The sharp increase in interest in utilizing travel advisors is the latest boost to this segment of the industry. Nearly half of U.S. travelers who rarely used travel agents in the past are likely to use one post-pandemic, according to a study conducted earlier this year by the American Society of Travel Advisors and Sandals Resorts.

The founder of Onefinestay is so optimistic about the future of travel agents that he announced plans this week for a new business called Fora. The startup aims at becoming a modern take on travel agencies, enabling people to become an advisor from their own homes.

“Travel is coming back, and travel advisors are poised for an epic comeback,” Erika Richter, senior communications director at the ASTA, told Skift in May.

Vaccine Polarization

Two distinct camps on vaccines exist within the family travel sector, according to the survey.

Only 16 percent of respondents reported their families were entirely vaccinated, which makes sense given they are only approved for individuals aged 12 or older.

While 53 percent agreed or strongly agreed with the concept of a vaccine passport, only 28 percent disagreed or strongly disagreed. The divide was narrower when it came to avoiding travel to states with low vaccination rates or few health protocols.

Forty-two percent of respondents in the survey said low vaccination rates or limited health protocols were a deterrent to their travel plans while 58 percent said they either had no opinion or disagreed with the idea of avoiding travel to such destinations for these reasons.

“The split is narrow, but it is extremely pronounced. So you don’t have many people who sit in the, ‘Oh, I could go either way’ category. It’s a polarizing question,” Minnaert said. “One of the biggest takeaways is that, as a travel provider, you can’t sit on the fence and hope that you’ve got to please both. You’re either going to be strict and enforced and be that sort of reassuring partner for families, or you’re going to be a little bit looser.”

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Tags: coronavirus, coronavirus recovery, family travel, travel agencies

Photo Credit: Families are more likely to book a trip utilizing a travel agent coming out of the pandemic than they were in prior years (pictured: Disney World). Jrobertiko / Wikimedia

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