Travel Agents Are Dead? Not So Fast

“Travel agents are dead.”


That’s what the trolls on the Internet love to say after they’ve rolled out of bed in their Mom’s basement and waded through the old pizza boxes to their laptops for another hard day’s work spreading their ignorance over the ‘Net.

That sort of thing — travel agents are dead — is what social scientists call a “trope” or a “meme.” I call it BS. And I’ve been saying so for almost two decades, pretty much ever since Internet forums and comment threads became a thing.

But trying to break through the piles of trope littering the Internet is hard.

It’s no wonder those of us who have been striving to set the record straight can begin to feel like poor old Victor Frankenstein.

Fortunately, we don’t have to go to quite those lengths to resurrect the travel agent. For starters, the travel agent is not dead. Never has been. Never will be.

But a bunch of morons . . . er, I mean The Media . . . has glommed on to the “travel agents are dead” myth and they continue to repeat the lie because it saves them the bother of doing, you know, journalism. I will say, in their defense, that journalists are overworked and grossly underpaid, so maybe we can forgive them for grabbing on to any shortcut that makes their lives easier.


At any rate, let me do a public service and explain why the travel agents are dead meme continues to stagger about, zombie-like, through the public square.

Back in the 90s, the airlines stopped paying commissions to travel agents. Storefront travel agencies immediately lost a major source of their income. Moreover, those so called brick-and-mortar travel agencies realized (although the general public and the media did not) that the high overhead they carried was mandated by the very airlines that were now stiffing them on commissions.

Many of those agencies did a perfectly rational thing. They surrendered their ARC appointments (which allowed them to sell those now commission-less airline tickets) and shut down.

Some went into into retirement, but most simply went home. They continued to sell high-ticket, high-margin products like tours and cruises, but without the crushing overhead of an expensive storefront on Main Street.

For the media, it was easy to see that the number of storefront travel agencies (as measured by ARC appointments) was going down. Aha! “Travel agents are dead!” they thought.

What was harder for them to see was the number of home-based agencies that were growing up, like mushrooms in the shadows. There were home-based former agency owners, home-based former agency employees, and a new crop of home-based travel agents created by what I like to call The Home-Based Travel Revolution.

There may well be more travel agents today than there were before all those storefront agency closings.

This development was harder for the media to notice because to do that would have required some … some . . . oh, what’s the word I’m looking for?

Oh yes, journalism!

The Media can’t take all the blame, however. The aforementioned Internet trolls have been very good at spreading the travel agents are dead lie.

These are people who are pretty much defined by three things:

  • Their only travel purchases are point-to-point airline tickets.
  • Their financial circumstances drive them to seek out the lowest fare.
  • They have the time to visit multiple sites in hopes of shaving a few bucks off the fare and then go online and leave comments sharing their extensive knowledge of the travel distribution system with others. (Note to Sheldon Cooper: That was sarcasm.)

Now before the Internet (Travelocity debuted in 1996), folks would go to their local travel agency to get an airline ticket. The alternative was to drive to the airport to use the airline ticketing offices there. Travel agencies were, in effect, satellite ticket counters for the airlines.

My guess is that most of the commenters spewing the “travel agents are dead” line don’t remember that, for the simple reason they weren’t old enough to be buying airline tickets back in 1995.

The Internet has changed the way many people buy airline tickets, of course. So perhaps, given their circumscribed world view, it’s logical for them to think that because they don’t use a travel agent no one else does either.

I can’t help wondering how many of these people also believe that barbers and hairdressers are dead because the Flowbee has rendered them obsolete.

But I digress. The point is, all this “travel agents are dead” talk is nonsense. But just because you and I know it doesn’t mean that it’s gotten through to The Media and the “great unwashed.” Hence the frustration so many in the travel industry experience.

So great in fact, that when a short piece favorable to travel agents appeared on Yahoo! Travel, the folks at Travel Market Report greeted it with the headline ‘It’s Alive’: Finally, a Consumer Article Sez the Agent Community Is Alive and Well, giving a nod to the classic line from 1934 Frankenstein movie shown above.

The article in question, 6 Myths About Travel Agents, and Why You Shouldn’t Write Them Off, by Karen Hayoun, will indeed gladden the hearts of travel agents.

Travel agents are dead? Not this one.

Source: Yahoo! Travel

She makes a number of excellent points. Of the “travel agents are dead” myth, Hayoun says:

That is a very common misconception, and one that is very wrong. A lot of people use travel agents, not just for business trips. According to a report by the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) in 2011, travel agents still sell 51% of all airline tickets, 87% of all cruises, 81% of tours, 45% of rentals, and 47% of all hotels. It’s no surprise, because there are many things that travel agents can do for you to make your vacation easier, like looking for specific hotels that have amenities for kids or locations perfect for a honeymoon or anniversary.

I also liked this:

Another very important thing to keep in mind is that the Internet won’t help you with the little details. Travel agents can give you inside information, such as what not to do in the country you’re visiting, where to find that perfect boutique family-friendly hotel, what to eat and not to eat, the local laws and traditions, and many more things that will keep you out of trouble and help you avoid misunderstandings.

On the other hand, Ms. Hayoun wrote the article to promote (rather subtly, I’ll admit) a website that allows you to plan and book your family vacation — you guessed it — without a travel agent.

The fight goes on.

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Travel Agents Are Dead? Not So Fast was last modified: October 21st, 2015 by Kelly Monaghan