Travel agents and airline industries first people on-line by vpe13794

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									LA Times Travel Show
Long Beach Convention Center
10:00 – 11:00 a.m., January 29, 2005
Remarks by Kathy Sudeikis, CTC
ASTA President and CEO

                      Travel Agents: The Hot New Distribution Channel

Good morning ladies and gentlemen and thank you for your warm welcome. It is an honor and a
privilege to be here with you at the Los Angeles Times Travel Show.

I have attended this event for the last three years and I have been exceptionally impressed with
the planning of the event and professional caliber of both those attending and those exhibiting.

And I am very excited to be here in my new role as ASTA president. I believe I bring a unique
perspective to ASTA, coming to the position as a working travel agent. This helps me understand
what ASTA members and all of you face on a day-to-day basis.

If I do nothing else this morning, I want to remind you that we’re in a great business!

Sometimes it’s easy to forget that there are people doing tedious, dull jobs. We’re having a lot
more fun. And even though it is fun, this is a business.

If you have been in the business as I have over the past decade, you know that travel agents have
evolved. Whereas in the 1990s brick and mortar agencies located in shopping centers or
downtowns were prevalent, there is no longer just one traditional agency model that is typical
anymore.

Instead, those travel agents who have succeeded are entrepreneurs who are experimenting with
new ways of doing business. Those who have succeeded range from the mega agencies like
American Express, Carlson Wagonlit or Uniglobe, to the home-based agent who works part-time
for a host agency.

In fact, one of the fastest-growing segments of the industry is independent agents. Membership
in ASTA’s affiliate, NACTA, has increased 70 percent during the past five years. My own
agency, All About Travel, is a host agency and a NACTA member.

Demand for travel is finally on the rise after some lean years. I think we can even say that travel
agents are the hot new travel distribution channel – again!

Just to give you a little history on agents’ involvement with the Internet, travel agents and the
airline industries were among the first to actually do business online. Agents were the ones
booking tickets on our GDS computer systems and offering consumers choices by using online
technology.

When the Internet opened up to everyone in the 1990s, travel booking was an easy option for
companies that wanted to use the technology. Because people have been able to purchase travel
online for a number of years, we have a solid track record for online travel.




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In other sectors of commerce, we don’t have benchmarks that are as good. For example, the
statistics about cars sold online or groceries purchased are not as prevalent. Or maybe they are
not as well-publicized.

As travel agents, we’re always being hit with numbers citing the growth in online booking
because this historical data is available. For example, according to Jupiter Research, the U.S.
online travel market has grown at a fast pace over the last year, totaling $54 billion in 2004, or 23
percent of travel purchased. The online market is projected to grow to $91 billion in 2009, or 33
percent of travel purchased.

TIA, the Travel Industry Association of America, reports that nearly 64 million online travelers—
30 percent of the U.S. adult population—used the Internet in 2004 to get travel and destination
information.

Recent studies indicate that young adults ages 18-29 rely more on technology because it’s
instinctive. This group, according to Forrester Research, accounts for only one in 10 travelers,
but about two-thirds of them are already buying their leisure travel online.

So with all the attention to the growth in online booking, where do travel agents fit in?

Well, we can counter with statistics of our own. Travel agents, including the online travel
engines, book 51 percent of all air travel, 81 percent of tours and packages, about 47 percent of
all hotel reservations, 45 percent of all car rentals, and 87 percent of all cruise reservations.

To answer the question, ―Has the Internet impacted our business?‖ You bet! We’re part of to a
business worth $120 billion annually!

The statistics tell me that the Internet is a valuable resource when planning a trip but it cannot
replace the expertise and guidance of a travel agent.

Technology in the travel industry is about the experience. Travel agents are trusted sources who
provide interaction, feedback, access, credibility and validation. They use technology as a
powerful tool when planning travel for clients.

The Internet has made for a stronger travel agent industry by providing instant access for both
consumers and agents to knowledge and resources. We know our clients will continue to use the
Internet for travel information.

But we can also share information about just how helpful we can be when they don’t have access
to the Internet, or can’t make their own special arrangements through the Internet.

Nothing can replace the personal touch when it comes to ensuring that the client’s needs will be
fulfilled. For example, in planning for disabled travel, a travel agent who has been there can
assure their client that they’ll be able to get on the airplane, navigate the hotel, and tour the
monument with no problem.

When flights have been cancelled, calling your travel agent from the back of the line at the airport
is a much safer guarantee that you’ll actually be booked on the next flight.




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I specialize in family travel, and I have booked groups as small as ___ and as large as ___, with
everyone wanting different arrival and departure times. If it is a multi-generational group you
also want to make sure there are things to do for all ages.

From honeymoons to adventure travel and from family to single travel, travel agents understand
the complexity of travel requirements for different types of travelers. Through first-hand travel
experiences and education, the travel counselor is a life student of specific geographic regions
and lifestyle travel specialties.

ASTA just completed an online survey of members and non-members. We asked travel agents
what percentage of their clients said that they had already conducted travel research on the
Internet before contacting their agent. Seventy-four percent of the agents said that their clients do
travel research on the Internet most of the time (between 26 to 100 percent) before calling.

Despite the availability of Internet-based alternatives, travel agents suggested that their clients
gave at least four important reasons for booking with travel agents.

       Almost 90 percent said ―Clients value my industry knowledge.‖
       Just over 80 percent said ―They are comforted that I will help them in the event
        something goes wrong.‖
       Almost 75 percent said ―They appreciate the convenience I provide,‖ and, ―They trust I
        will find them the best prices.‖

In this same survey, travel agents said their clients told them that the reason they would book on
the Internet instead of using their travel agent was either strictly based on price, or because there
was a special incentive offered with Internet booking, such as double miles.

A number of the major agencies have a Web strategy to drive customers to agents, rather than
booking directly online. On the other hand, more and more agencies are themselves providing
ways for their clients to research air fares and other options on their Web sites, and they either
allow clients to book directly or they’ll book for them.

In a recent article about travel distribution, editor James Shillinglaw quotes Joe McClure of
Montrose Travel here in California as saying, ―We want people to come to our Web site to get
enough food to get them to call us.‖ Joe McClure adds, ―Our travel agents become the
salesmen.‖

This is just one example of how travel agents have reinvented themselves and adapted. We have
not only survived the Internet but thrived!

Sometimes there is a tendency in this industry to think travel agents have been singled out. That
we are the only industry impacted by change. Honestly, what industry or profession has not been
profoundly changed, especially by technology? Virtually every human being has been affected.

The Internet, globalization and terrorism have changed how people live, think and work. They
have changed attitudes, expectations and yes, they have changed travel. In my role I want to
convince travel agents to look forward. We need to wholeheartedly embrace the boundless
opportunities in the changes we cannot control.




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Our enemy is not the Internet, or suppliers or the airlines or government regulation. Our enemy is
attitude – an unwillingness to use imagination and energy to create innovative solutions to the
challenges of today’s business realities.

We need to be optimistic without being unrealistic. We need to be positive without being
Pollyanna. And at least for the next two years while I am at the head of ASTA, there will be no
whining allowed! Not while we’re in a great business!

When it comes to talking to the consumer media about the value of a travel agent I think we can
never go wrong by positioning ourselves as the travelers’ advocate.

But what we must also do is put people back in the travel planning and purchasing process. We
need to position travel agents as consultants and trusted advisors who can provide knowledge,
experience and sound advice.

Here is one of our key messages for the next two years -- one which we will preach wherever
possible, whether at Rotary Clubs or with Regis and Kelly on TV.

Travel planning isn’t between places…it’s between people. The travel industry is a relationship
business. Travel agents are the invaluable link between travelers and their destinations.

We have to describe ourselves as individuals who listen to needs and wishes, to anxieties and
worries. We must tell consumers that travel agents today can reassure, recommend solutions and
facilitate decision-making skillfully, using all the resources of technology available.

In my opinion, the most effective way to make our case before the traveling public is to be before
the traveling public. To show by example, in person, in newspaper and magazine stories, on
television and in our local business communities, who we are and what we do.

To that end, one of ASTA’s major programs this spring will be to get a press kit of information
about the industry into the hands of every television and radio producer, and newspaper editor in
the top 50 media markets of the country.

In the press kit will be contact information for local travel agents who will serve as a resource for
the media. We’ll all be speaking from the same page on the value of travel agents and to tell
them, ―Without a travel agent, you’re on your own.‖

Another way that we’re going to be telling our story is through a travel agent contest called the
Extra Mile Award. We’ll be asking for submissions from travel agents and clients, encouraging
them to share stories about ways their travel agent saved the day, or booked them on an
extraordinary trip. You’ll hear more about the Extra Mile Award at the end of March.

ASTA is also engaging consumers on its consumer Web site, www.TravelSense.org. Not only do
we provide a variety of tips for travelers, but we link consumers directly to agents in an
interactive community. Consumers and agents alike can register on the Community and share
their love of travel, travel journals and photos.

Consumers can find the right travel agent for them through a sophisticated search function. They
can review travel agent profiles that show the agent’s photo and highlights their personalities.




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In the long run, our most important story is about who we are, people helping people make wise
travel decisions. I jump at the chance to present a face to the consumer. And I challenge any
travel agent to do the same. I encourage you to step up and show the world why our services are
so valuable. If we are successful in communicating this message, we will all be stronger.

If each one of us in this room today takes some responsibility for delivering the travel agent story,
in the long run it means more business for all of us.

We must continue to demonstrate the value of using a travel agent. As the world continues to be
more technology driven, we must continue our commitment to integrity and to our customer. We
must continue to nurture and grow our customer base and solidify our relationships with them.

Relationships are our ―ace in the hole‖ and the one place where we have a distinct advantage over
many other distribution channels. We can continue to succeed and continue to show that we are a
vibrant and successful industry.

Travel agents provide personal service that will never be replaced. Travel agents are here to stay!
They’re the hot new travel distribution – again!

Through our continued hard work and commitment to our clients, I have no doubt that we will be
successful.

Thank you.




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