Don’t overlook the need for travel agents in the future of travel. Two recent surveys show that Americans increasingly want to use the services of a travel counselor for post-pandemic vacations.
Travel behaviors in all market segments have changed during the pandemic, but a shift in family travelers is good news for the travel counselor market.
The 2021 United States Family Travel Survey conducted by the Family Travel Association in partnership with the School of Professional Studies at New York University describes the various impacts of the pandemic on family travel behaviors. Some of the emerging trends may seem similar: The demand for domestic travel, especially to outbound destinations, far exceeds the demand for international travel.
But a massive increase in interest in preparing travel plans through a travel agency is one of the main findings of the survey.
“People who actually work with travel agents still tend to be in the minority, but an ever-increasing number of people say they would consider using a travel counselor in the future,” Lynn Minnaert, Clinical Associate Professor to Jonathan M from NYU. Tisch Center of Hospitality, Skift said ahead of the release of the survey results this week.
Learn more about the results of the 2021 U.S. Family Travel Survey at the Skift Global Forum in New York, September 21-23
While only 17% of family travelers have used an advisor to help them book in the past two years, 65% of those surveyed said they would consider using one in the next two years. Thirty-one percent of respondents said the pandemic had a direct impact on their decision to consider hiring a travel counselor.
The study, conducted in June and July, interviewed 2,365 parents in the United States.
The lingering uncertainty surrounding the reopening of the travel industry is a key factor in the increase in interest in bookings through a travel advisor. It’s a lot easier to deal with cancellations and chase after refunds when someone else is doing it on your behalf, it is believed.
Demand for international travel and cruises remains low for families. Only 22% of those polled said they expected to spend more on international travel in the next 12 months, compared to 44% who said they expected to spend more on domestic travel. Interest in cruises has increased from 36% of those surveyed in the 2019 survey to 10% this year.
But family travelers are more likely to use a travel agent for both types of trips upon their return, Minnaert said. International travel was boosted this week when the United States announced plans to reopen borders to vaccinated travelers arriving from abroad. Several European countries and the UK have already opened their borders to US travelers, but US reciprocity was a major sticking point in keeping borders open.
Larger family trips, whether national or international, are also areas where Minnaert anticipates more contact with travel agents.
“[Interest in travel agents is] an area where we have seen that the booking needs of families become more complex – for example, when considering multigenerational or generationless travel – this is also where travel agents often play a role, because now you are coordinating different family units which must all travel together, ”she added.
The surge in interest in using travel counselors is the latest boost to this segment of the industry. Nearly half of American travelers who have rarely used travel agencies in the past are likely to use one after the 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 this week he announced plans for a new business called Fora. The startup aims to become a modern take on travel agencies, allowing people to become a consultant from home.
“Travel is coming back and travel counselors are set for an epic comeback,” Erika Richter, senior communications director at ASTA, told Skift in May.
Two separate vaccine camps exist in the family travel industry, according to the survey.
Only 16% of those polled said their families were fully immunized, which makes sense considering they are only approved for people aged 12 or older.
While 53% agreed or strongly agreed with the concept of a vaccination passport, only 28% disagreed or strongly disagreed. The gap was narrower when it came to avoiding travel to states with low vaccination rates or few health protocols.
Forty-two percent of survey respondents said low immunization rates or limited health protocols were a deterrent to their travel plans, while 58 percent said they 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 a lot of people sitting in the “Oh, I could go either way” category. It’s a polarizing question, ”Minnaert said. “One of the main things to remember is that as a travel provider you can’t sit on the fence and hope that you have to please both. Either you are going to be strict and diligent and be that kind of reassuring partner for families, or you are going to be a little more cowardly. “
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