The Once and Future Agent: Travel Agency Distribution Landscape 2009-2013

The Once and Future Agent: Travel Agency Distribution Landscape 2009-2013 Published March 2012 Analysts: Douglas Quinby, Mary Pat Sullivan


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Traditional travel agents once represented the dominant channel through which consumers purchased travel. In the past decade, however, fundamental shifts in consumer behavior and growth in online booking channels have disrupted and transformed the traditional travel agency landscape. The number of leisure agents has declined dramatically, while both corporate and leisure agencies have shifted their focus in order to stay relevant and competitive.

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Douglas Quinby, Senior Director, Research

The Once and Future Agent: Phocuswright’s Travel Agency Distribution Landscape 2009-2013 examines the traditional travel agency channel, assessing the state of the marketplace and providing a detailed outlook for the future. Drawing on data acquired through a survey of more than 1,200 U.S. travel agents, supplier interviews, publicly available financial information and a range of third-party sources, this report identifies the key forces shaping agency distribution and examines the complex dynamics at play in both the leisure and corporate agency markets. The Once and Future Agent: Phocuswright’s Travel Agency Distribution Landscape 2009-2013 includes:

  • Comprehensive travel agency market sizing, including leisure versus corporate sales, and sales by segment - air, hotel, cruise, car, tour and rail
  • Composition and structure of the travel agency marketplace, examining the total number of agency locations, the travel agent population, the mix of leisure and corporate agencies and travel agency affiliations (consortia)
  • Assessment of the growing home-based travel agent phenomenon
  • Detailed analysis of travel agency research and booking methods, including GDSs, mobile devices, supplier websites and other online resources and platforms
  • Discussion of trends and key market developments in the U.S. travel agency landscape, such as:
    • Overall outlook for leisure and corporate segments in the aftermath of the recession
    • Significant shifts in the mix of travel products that leisure agents offer their clients
    • Evolution of a new breed of travel agent in response to changes in technology, consumer behavior and business practices that have become outmoded
    • Examination of key threats to the leisure agency distribution channel, including risk of declining supplier commissions and aging travel agent population

he travel agent marketplace has changed radically over the past 15 years, in both the corporate and leisure segments. The Once and Future Agent: Phocuswright's Travel Agency Distribution Landscape 2009-2013 outlines this transformation and projects what lies ahead for traditional travel agencies.

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  • Introduction & Executive Summary
    • PhoCusWright’s Travel Agency Distribution Landscape 2009-2013March 2012Key Findings
      • Size of the Market
      • Travel Product Segment
      • Agency Booking Method
      • Key Market Trends & Outlook
    • Research Methods & Terminology
      • Travel Agency Gross Sales Volume
      • Travel Agency Survey
      • Leisure/Corporate Segmentation
    • Travel Agents Today: Key Terms & Definitions
      • Travel Agency Types
      • Home-Based Agent Types
      • Agency Organizations
      • Travel Type
      • Packaged Travel
      • Travel Agency Terminology
  • Size of Market
    • Agency Sales
    • Leisure vs. Corporate
    • Agency Sales & Share by Segment
  • Structure of the Market
    • Leisure & Corporate Agencies
    • Travel Agent Population
    • Home-Based Agents
    • Consortia & Agency Affiliation
  • How Travel Agents Book
    • Research & Shopping
      • Flights & Hotels
    • Complex Leisure: Cruise & Packaged Travel
  • The Once & Future Agent: Key Market Developments
    • An Uneven Outlook
    • Cruise: Agents’ Double-Edged Sword
    • Leisure: Getting Less Complex
    • A New Breed of Agent
      • The travel agent is dead. Long live the travel service professional.
    • Age and the Future of the Leisure Agent Profession
    • Mobile Void
  • Partners
  • Sponsors

Travel Agency Gross Sales Volume
Phocuswright sized travel agency sales using the supply-side methodology it developed through Phocuswright's U.S. Online Travel Overview Eleventh Edition (November 2011). This methodology bases its market sizing on supplier revenues. Data is acquired through supplier interviews, publicly available financial information, and other credible thirdparty sources, including Airlines Reporting Corporation (ARC), Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), National Tour Association (NTA), PricewaterhouseCoopers, STR Global (formerly Smith Travel Research), PKF Consulting, and select travel industry trade publications and surveys (e.g. Auto Rental News, Business Travel News, Travel Weekly).

Travel agency market sizing figures represent gross bookings of flights, hotel, car rental, tour operators, cruise lines and rail purchased via travel agencies in the U.S. The sizing includes leisure, corporate and unmanaged business travel. Sizing figures represent gross bookings, not travel agency revenues. Online travel agencies (Expedia, Orbitz, Priceline, Travelocity and their portfolio of websites) are excluded from this segment.

Travel Agency Survey
Phocuswright conducted a web-based survey to capture profile information (e.g., demographics, sales volume) and research and booking behavior among a representative cross-section of U.S. travel agents. Phocuswright completed the survey in July and August of 2011 and received 1,203 qualified respondents. The survey was fielded in partnership with five major travel industry organizations to ensure a response base representative of the total travel agency community.

Project partners who provided travel agency lists for the survey:

  • Association of Corporate Travel Executives (ACTE)

  • Airlines Reporting Corporation (ARC)

  • American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA)

  • Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA)

  • Travalliance (publishers of [email protected], Vacation Agent and TravelPulse Daily)

In addition, Phocuswright conducted 40 interviews across the agency landscape to acquire a richer perspective from frontline travel agents, agency owner/managers and executives from agency consortia, suppliers, and technology firms.

Leisure/Corporate Segmentation
A key objective of this research was to understand the major differences between leisure and corporate travel agencies – specifically with regard to their commercial models, the products they sell, their booking methods, use of technology, influences on their product selection and recommendation, the composition of their customers, and their marketing practices. The survey asked respondents to indicate the percent of their gross sales volume that is leisure and unmanaged business travel and the percent that is managed (corporate) travel. Phocuswright segmented the respondents according to the following criteria: 

  • Leisure: At least 70% of gross sales volume is leisure

  • Corporate: At least 60% of gross sales volume is managed corporate travel

  • General purpose: All remaining agents where leisure volume represents less than 70% of total sales and corporate volume represents less than 60%

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CA $1,448 • £859 • €996
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