One learns a lot from trend lines, but I always find myself spending a fair amount of time thinking about outliers, those numbers in a chart that turn left when all the others turn right.
Generally speaking, there is a remarkable directional consistency within our annual Travel Industry Survey from year to year, and I regard that as a good thing. Absent an unusual outside influence, it speaks to the survey's reliability when trends move along at a somewhat predictable pace until, as often occurs, they level off or gently reverse.
There were, in fact, three long-term trends that leveled off this year:
* The percentage of advisers who are home-based seems to have stabilized at around 50%.
* Air bookings, as a percentage of total sales, has been dropping for years but seems to have settled at an average of around 17% of most agencies' mix.
* The long-term, steady rise in international bookings vs. domestic seems to have plateaued at around a 3 to 2 ratio.
When you begin to look at the breakdowns of agency size, there are a few not-too-surprising exceptions in the numbers above. Larger agencies, which also have a higher percentage of corporate travel in their mix, sell considerably more air, and the smallest of home-based agents (under $100,000 in annual sales) don't sell as much international (they're about 50/50 international/domestic).
But looking over some of the detailed charts, there are some jumps and dips whose cause is not as easily discerned.
The number of home-based agents who rose to the $500,000-to-$2 million range of annual sales now represents 26% of all home-based agents, up from only 15% a year ago, and the gain is a result of other agents moving up rather than down.
Good news, right? Not completely. Looking elsewhere in the data, one finds a possible explanation that has some negative connotations. The average tenure of home-based agents rose to 8.5 years, a jump of almost a year.
Concurrently, the proportion of those who have been in business two years or less fell from 27% to 21%. Taken together, this suggests a decline in new entrants. While I remain optimistic that retail travel is an attractive career for young people, it would appear that there were fewer entrants in this survey than previous years.
When it comes to business mix and agency size, some patterns emerge that could be of keen interest to certain suppliers:
* For both traditional and home-based agencies, the smaller the agency, the more likely it is to sell more family travel than larger agencies. There's no apparent reason why, unless that for agencies with less than $100,000 in gross sales, a larger proportion of their sales is to their own family.
* It appears that the higher the gross sales, the more luxury is sold. That explanation becomes self-evident if you write the sentence in reverse: The more luxury sold, the higher the gross sales.
* For some reason, adventure travel seems to be a sweet spot for traditional agencies with sales of $3 million to $10 million. On average, 10% of agencies put some focus on adventure, but those midsize agencies come in at 18%. With weddings, however, slightly smaller agencies tend to take the lead: it's 11% overall vs. 17% for agencies with $1 million to $3 million in sales.
OK, enough with anomalies and outliers. The rest of this special issue puts focus and provides context for major industry trends with wider applications and, perhaps, implications.