Wait. Travel agents still exist? I thought they were the stuff of legend.
Believe it or not, travel agents remain relevant even in today's world of online booking and free travel guide databases.
Since the dawn of invention, innovations and technological advancements have nullified countless professions, rendering human labor in particular fields redundant. The Internet is no exception. Librarians, print publications, video rental stores, booksellers, music sellers and bike messengers have all felt the winnowing effects of boundless communication.
Common sense would dictate that travel agents are also being phased out by the Internet. There is a superfluity of websites that offer cheap, user-friendly booking services and travel tips. Who doesn't immediately hop on Expedia or Priceline when making travel plans? Yet surprisingly enough, travel agents have somehow managed to keep afloat despite the invasion of the robot overlords and their swift and total conquest of humanity.
In 2011, travel agents booked $95 billion in travel sales – about a third of the U.S. travel industry. According to the American Society of Travel Agents, agents continue to book 25% of all car rentals, 30% of all hotels, 50% of all flights and 70% of all tours and packages. In 2010, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projected a 10% travel agent employment increase by 2020.
The question becomes, why? Why do people continue using travel agents? What do they have to offer? What can a travel agent do that I can't do for myself?
The Cost of Using an Agent
First, let's take a look at the cost of using a travel agent. If you're considering a travel agent, ask your candidates about pricing up front. That should be obvious. Be forward, and most agents will gladly disclose their fee structure.
Travel agents have a number of ways to make money. Some charge a per-hour rate on time spent planning your trip ($100/hr is pretty standard). Some earn commission on bookings (though they do not earn commission on domestic flights anymore). It is not uncommon for agents to charge a fee for each item planned. You can expect to pay $25-30 for a domestic flight booking and $50-80 to book a vacation at a single destination.