Travel agents have known for years that they save their clients time and money. It's a value-add claim they market to consumers through a variety of channels.
ASTA research is now adding statistical support to that claim: Agents save consumers an average of $452 and four planning hours per trip. The research gives agents quantitative talking points in the struggle to remind people of what they can do.
"It confirms what we have known all along," said Steve Loucks, chief communications officer at Travel Leaders Group, "and that is that travel agents routinely work to get not only the best fare, the best rate and the best experience for their client, but they also help them save time."
The survey was funded by Carnival Corp. and conducted online by global market-research firm TNS in early April. TNS reached out to 14,000 U.S. households and achieved a sample size of 3,000 consumers; travelers were adults ages 18 and older with a household income of at least $50,000 who had traveled overnight and stayed in paid accommodations for leisure travel purposes in the past 12 months.
Having quantified data "helps tremendously," said Scott Koepf, the senior vice president of sales at Avoya Travel. "Hopefully, we can all leverage this and really point out the fact that not only do the travel agents not cost more, they actually will save you money."
Agents often reinforce the value they add to consumers' travels in direct conversations with clients, but Drew Daly, general manager of network engagement and performance with CruiseOne, Cruises Inc. and Dream Vacations, said he also sees that value-add play out on social media.
Agents are using sites such as Facebook and Twitter to get that across, Daly said, posting succinct messages such as, "My job is to save you time, energy and money and find you the best value and get you the best bang for your buck." They are also using some form of that message in marketing materials such as newsletters.
Margie Jordan, the vice president of membership services at CCRA International, suggested agents use data from ASTA's research as talking points in their posts, and she said agents should speak to the value of their service and not focus solely on the money-saving aspect.
"I think the real message does lie with the personal touch," she said.
Vicky Garcia, the COO and co-owner of Cruise Planners, said her agents also use trade shows, bridal events, speaking opportunities and videos. Cruise Planners recently released a cartoon video that agents can customize with their contact information, Garcia said.
The 2-minute video asserts that agents take the stress out of vacation planning by taking care of the details. Its narrator asks, "Why spend four weeks planning your one-week vacation?" It also tells viewers that agents have access to deals, ensuring that their clients get the best value.
MTravel, Montrose Travel's host agency, has incorporated the time- and money saving that comes with working with an agent directly into its sales process.
Andi McClure-Mysza, MTravel's president, said she has found that new customers often come to an agent after they've spent hours online. During the sales process, agents attempt to learn as much about that research as possible, then close with: "I have a clear understanding of what you're looking for. I'm going to research all possible options with my contacts as well as online, so all of our bases are covered. You can stop wasting time researching. You're in good hands with me. I'm going to take care of you.'"