Agent Issues 2014 Travel Weekly Travel Industry Survey What's in a name? By Arnie Weissmann / October 27, 2014 Share 1 -- A little more than nine years ago, I wrote a column asking Travel Weekly's audience to help redefine what the world calls people who sell retail travel. Even then, the convergence and blurring of the offline and online worlds made "traditional travel agent" or "brick-and-mortar agency" or even "online travel agency" inaccurate, polarizing and somewhat meaningless. I didn't see a lot of potential in any of the responses. None was concise enough. Since then, sellers of travel have increasingly wanted to distance themselves from the descriptor "travel agent." Everyone from President Obama to Tina Fey has used it as an example of a career made obsolete by the Web. Regardless of their accuracy, it's nonetheless a drag to have to begin each discussion with a potential new client by saying, "No, I actually do exist!" So agents began calling themselves by other names, most notably "travel adviser," "travel counselor" and "travel specialist." There has been some question about whether there's also a need to differentiate sellers of travel who work from a home office. Increasingly, there appears to be a consensus that where an agent works is of minor importance, though as our Travel Industry Survey research reported in the following pages shows, there are some differences between what home-based retailers sell and the product mix of office-based retailers. (Click here or on the image to continue reading the report.)We're now adding our findings on the question of what agents want to call themselves to previous surveys by ASTA and the Outside Sales Support Network. I find myself increasingly using the phrase "travel retailer" in my own reporting; it's a relatively clinical, descriptive term that encompasses the entire indirect travel sales channel. I'm not surprised that only 1% would embrace this as their term of choice. The split between preference for "travel specialist" and "travel counselor" or "travel adviser" is a meaningful and important distinction for consumers. Common wisdom holds that for a small retailer, becoming a specialist is a smart move, but clearly not everyone wants to restrict themselves to a specific niche or specialty. The terms "counselor" and "adviser," selected by 21% and 15% of respondents respectively, put the emphasis on professionalism and imply objectivity and client advocacy over product specialization. What to make of the 25% who still prefer the term "travel agent" to any other? What attributes do they believe the phrase signifies that outweigh the benefits of appearing to be a specialist or providing "professional" guidance? For some, it's no doubt inertia. I've heard others argue that they want to make clear, for legal reasons, that they are an "agent" of suppliers. And I believe there are those for whom the term "travel agent" reflects the best attributes mentioned above. They survived because they possess specialized knowledge, conduct business professionally and deliver for their clients. Nothing has changed for them, so why should they relabel? Email Arnie Weissmann at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter. MethodologyThis report is built on data from two surveys: the 2014 Travel Industry Survey and PhoCusWright's "The State of Social Media in Travel," published in September. The Travel Industry Survey is an annual report that examines important trends in the operations of travel agencies and travel agents. The Warren Weiss Co. collected data by using an online questionnaire sent to Travel Weekly and TravelAge West subscribers in July inviting them to participate. The survey results were based on responses from 1,451 agents. This sample size allows for analyses of different segments and subgroups, with statistical reliability typically falling in the plus-or-minus 3% to 4% range. However, trends apparent in the data are so consistent over time that even small changes can be considered reliable. Respondents were categorized into one of seven groups based on type of agency (home-based vs. traditional) and on annual agency revenue. For this report, we focused on the largest revenue category of home-based agents and the largest two revenue categories of traditional agencies. Forty-eight percent of respondents participating in the research work in traditional retail travel agencies, while the remaining 52% are home-based. The terms "retail" and "traditional" are used interchangeably when referring to agencies based in brick-and-mortar offices as opposed to home-based offices. In two charts, information is displayed from the 2012 Travel Industry Survey. That year was chosen to show a slightly longer comparative period. Interviews accompanying the data were conducted in late September and early October and were edited for length and clarity. PhoCusWright conducted a global survey in the first quarter of 2014 on travel companies' uses, strategies, activities, successes and management of social media. It fielded the survey through its own database as well as through six partners. The 580 qualified respondents were grouped into eight sections of the industry: 26% of the survey respondents were travel agencies. Online companies such as online travel agencies and metasearch companies were included in a separate breakout, which represented 8% of respondents. PhoCusWright and Travel Weekly are owned by Northstar Travel Media. Note about the 2014 surveyOne of the measures in the Travel Industry Survey is average gross dollar bookings, which can vary due not only to straightforward changes in actual sales but also due to differing levels of survey response from year to year. Those numbers were not published in this year's charts because the addition or absence of a few large retail agencies can have a significant impact on the calculation of the average gross sales for the sample. In the 2013 sample, there were a total of 133 traditional agencies that grossed $10 million or more the previous year; in the 2014 sample there were 99 such agencies. By examining the overall long-term trend combined with other factors, we attributed a drop in average retail sales (from $5.5 million in 2012 to $4.9 million in 2013) to an underrepresentation of mega agencies in the 2014 sample.