This year's Travel Industry survey found that more new agencies are in business now than in recent years: One-quarter of all home-based agents have operated for two years or less. Senior editor Jamie Biesiada spoke with David Kolner, senior vice president of global member partnerships at Virtuoso, about the increase in new agencies and what that means for the industry going forward.
Q: Are you seeing an uptick in new agencies?
A: Virtuoso is seeing a huge uptick in the number of people joining the industry and, specifically, joining Virtuoso. Year over year, our stats show a 35% increase in the number of travel advisers who are part of the Virtuoso network. About half of that growth is coming from our existing Virtuoso member agencies, and then the other half is coming from new agencies that are affiliating with Virtuoso from other consortia.
Q: To what do you attribute the growth?
A: There is a resurgence in using a travel adviser again, so we definitely are proud to see that there are a lot of people joining the industry and also that our agencies are doing a great job of bringing new talent into their agencies, whether that's developing full-time employees or developing new and more sophisticated host agency models.
Q: Are agencies looking for new employees and/or ICs?
A: Our member survey last winter identified that talent is the No. 1 issue for Virtuoso agencies, and I don't really see a lot of signs of that changing in the year, either. I think there is such great opportunity for people returning to use traditional travel agencies that agencies are looking for staff to help meet the demand.
Q: When agencies bring on ICs, in particular, are they usually new to travel?
A: I would say the majority are new to travel, so agencies are actively looking for ways to help recruit new people to the industry. But I also think on the luxury and leisure side you really need to get a certain type of individual who's joining the industry [and is interested in education and training]. But that said, there's great opportunity.
Q: For years, there's been talk of the industry aging out. Do you think that's still an issue?
A: I think it's too early to say the crisis has passed entirely. Our research indicates that by far in the world of luxury and leisure today, the No. 1 opportunity is in the boomer audience. So we just need people who have got boomer clients. The thing that gives me a lot of hope is research we conducted that profiled the type of millennial and Gen Xer client that we're getting. The really good news is that of the millennials we've attracted, 32% are in a high net-worth category already. What I'm proud of agents in the Virtuoso network for doing is tailoring and customizing the way that they sell travel to help find those affluent millennial clients. Because they are out there, and that is a great client base to develop for literally decades to come.