Travel Guide

How online booking has changed the travel agent landscape

Travel agent jobs have dipped sharply, dropping about 70% between 2000 and 2021, in accordance with the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The proliferation of online travel corporations has made it simple for deal hunters, armchair vacationers, and enterprise travel planners to trace info and discover the finest offers at their fingertips. But do not rely out travel brokers but—many are seeing a resurgence as travel recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.

TravelPerk used BLS information to research the decline in U.S. employment of travel brokers over time, evaluating employment to a timeline of online travel assets which have propelled online booking.

It’s necessary to notice the variations between varied booking choice companies obtainable to clients. Travel brokers assist shoppers in planning their journeys by arranging travel with suppliers. Examples of their suppliers embrace bundle excursions, travel insurance coverage, railways, cruise strains, automotive leases, airways, lodges, and so forth. A travel agent’s shoppers embrace companies, teams, or people, who usually have very totally different travel wants and expectations. Business vacationers, for instance, are spending 50% much less on travel than pre-pandemic, however as they steadily return, many have issues together with mitigating prices as in-person conferences restart and anticipating altering entry restrictions, particularly for worldwide travel. Leisure vacationers could flip to brokers to advocate lower-risk—however nonetheless scenic—trip locations.  

Travel brokers can personal their enterprise or work for an company owned by another person. Instead of working with vacationers on an itinerary from the floor up, a tour operator, in distinction, will prepare particular packages with suppliers reminiscent of airways and lodges. They will then supply these packages to their clients. Booking websites, on the different hand, make it doable for vacationers tailor-fit their travel preparations and e-book them on their very own, whether or not it’s only a quick weekend jaunt or a month-long worldwide enterprise journey.

Travel is forecast to return nearer to pre-pandemic ranges in 2023—the U.S. Travel Association tasks that subsequent 12 months leisure spending will return to 2019 ranges and enterprise travel will climb to 88% of 2019 spending. Read on to study extra about how online booking websites have changed the travel agent landscape.

Line chart showing the decline in travel agent jobs since 2000, juxtaposed with a few big events in the online travel and booking space.

Travel agent jobs expertise a drastic decline

The web has significantly impacted travel—essentially reworking the expertise itself and upending the method the trade capabilities. As conventional operators struggled to adapt, new manufacturers started to emerge. The trade’s digital disruption began in the ’90s and has continued steadily.

In 1994,, the first complete worldwide lodge properties catalog online, appeared. It would quickly embrace a function permitting clients to make online bookings. Then, in 1995, the Internet Travel Network claimed to supervise the first online airline reservation. ITN was the forerunner of GetThere, the reservation system for company travel.

In 2000, it offered to Sabre, which ran an automatic airline seat reservation system. Also in 1995, Viator Systems—​​​​now referred to as Viator—began a travel know-how enterprise that helped present bookings for excursions and vacation spot excursions online.

In 1996, a brand new participant entered the online travel bookings world: Expedia. This online platform was Microsoft’s foray into online travel. This try has been extremely profitable, given its spot as one in every of the world’s high online travel businesses. At a time earlier than e-commerce was extensively adopted, Expedia gave shoppers value comparisons for flights, automotive, and lodges—and the means to simply and safely e-book them on the website. The web site’s first commercial touted that on a regular basis individuals might now use “the same reservation system” as travel brokers.

That similar 12 months, partly impressed by the U.S. airline Southwest, Ryanair launched its famously low-cost airline mannequin, reworking Europe’s airline trade by permitting vacationers to e-book immediately on airline web sites. Bypassing travel brokers and online booking platforms cuts out service charges and commissions, and in addition permits customers to select any flight the airline provided—not simply the ones chosen by a 3rd occasion.  

Other gamers that emerged in the ’90s embrace, Travelocity, FareChase, and Priceline. FareChase used metasearch, working as a search engine that gathered fares from booking web sites for lodges, airways, and businesses. This platform laid the groundwork for different online booking options like Skyscanner, TravelGrocery store, Kayak, and Sidestep, which operated as one-stop-shops to seek out offers throughout totally different airline and firm web sites.

In that very same decade, details about travel locations turned extra accessible to shoppers. In 1995, Jeff Greenwald turned the first travel blogger when he printed a travel article for Global Network Navigator. While travel running a blog is not the similar as making online bookings, it additionally makes a distinction in the travel agent landscape. As info proliferates online about travel how-tos and locations, increasingly more persons are impressed to plan journeys and make travel selections—together with booking and ticketing—reasonably than counting on the experience of a travel agent.


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Overhead shot of a woman using a smartphone next to an open suitcase

The 2000s additional accelerated adjustments in the travel trade

Tripadvisor was based in 2000 and had a mission to assist individuals make higher travel selections. The firm organized lodge listings, making them extra searchable, and ranked lodges primarily based on vacationers’ evaluations. With this info at their fingertips, potential vacationers might e-book utilizing the suggestions of different vacationers as a substitute of a travel agent

After Sept. 11, it took almost three years for airline travel to return to earlier ranges after a excessive of 65.4 million passengers in August 2001. As the travel trade handled the downturn in enterprise and leisure journeys, these online platforms turned the saving grace for operators like lodges and airways who wanted to promote massive quantities of obtainable stock. The travel trade’s reliance on these platforms stays to this present day.

Another shift got here in 2003 when IAC bought Expedia. IAC’s constellation of internet sites, led by Barry Diller, attracts as much as 2 billion month-to-month visits in 190 nations, in accordance with the firm. In the first quarter of 2003, Expedia’s web earnings quadrupled to $26.9 million with a income of $198.8 million, signaling an additional rift between travel brokers and their clients, who are actually planning their journeys online.

Even although Priceline launched in 1997, it wasn’t till 2004 that its recognition surged with the acquisition of Active Hotels, a European online lodge reservation service. The following 12 months, Priceline additionally purchased, cementing its share of the worthwhile European travel market. Also in 2004, the online home-sharing platform CouchSurfing was launched, providing vacationers the alternative to remain and expertise their chosen vacation spot with locals.

Not lengthy after, the travel trade noticed a startup poised to vary the lodge trade essentially. AirBedAndBreakfast—now named Airbnb—was in a position to safe important funding in 2009, after which they skilled progress so shortly that, by 2011, customers had booked 1 million nights on the platform, which was then obtainable in 89 nations.

During the world monetary disaster of 2008, airline shares plummeted 68%, and cruise strains, lodges, and resorts fell 74%. The following 10 years examined travel trade techniques, and people who survived turned extra agile and accessible, especially for these in growing nations. Before the 2008 recession, China, India, and Latin America made up 21% of worldwide travel. By 2016, that share had nearly doubled to 41%.


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People in an airport lobby crossing in front of a plane arrival and departure board

COVID-19’s impression has been predictably important

In 2021, the variety of worldwide arrivals was 1 billion lower than earlier than the pandemic. World Tourism Organization consultants imagine the travel trade won’t totally get better till no less than 2024. Worldwide spending on tourism and travel was lower than half in 2020 than what it had been in 2019. Employment was additionally closely impacted, with 62 million individuals working in the worldwide tourism and travel sector dropping their jobs in 2020.

Despite the gloom and doom of the pandemic, it seems like some restoration may be on the horizon for travel brokers. The BLS tasks a 20% improve in demand for travel brokers from 2021 to 2031, outstripping its 5% progress projection for all occupations.

Some have reported a marked restoration in enterprise, even in comparison with pre-pandemic ranges. A flash ballot performed by the American Society of Travel Advisors in early March 2021 revealed that in 2021, 76% of travel advisers noticed a rise in clients versus pre-pandemic occasions, and 80% have fielded queries from those that had by no means used a travel adviser earlier than.

Because of the fixed adjustments in restrictions and guidelines, vacationers started reaching out to travel brokers who might assist them plan their journeys. More vacationers have appeared to travel brokers who may help when enterprise journeys, cruises, and different plans are canceled or delayed on account of well being restrictions. As extra brokers grow to be more proficient at coping with last-minute travel help help, their roles could increase past simply planning for journeys to additionally serving to extra with disaster administration and restoration for vacationers.    

As travel surges again to life, so could the fortunes of travel brokers rise together with it.


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