41% of ASTA agencies charge for consulting

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About 41% of ASTA member agencies charged consultation fees on at least some custom travel services last year, according to the Society's most recent research on service fee practices.

A smaller percentage of members charged for information provided over the phone (12%) or via email (17%).

The research, conducted in September 2009 and released last week, also found that agencies derived 18% of total revenue from fees of all types, including charges for transactions, consulting and planning.

The survey suggests that the needle hasn't moved recently. In 2008, the same percentage, 41%, said they charged consultation fees for some custom services, and 17% of revenue was derived from fees of all types. The question about consultation fees was not posed before 2008, but since the 2004 survey, members have reported that fees account for 17% to 20% of revenue.

ASTA surveyed a sample of its members, which are predominantly leisure-focused, averaging 76% leisure and 24% corporate.

ASTA's president, Chris Russo, said that "in an ideal world" such agencies should get 30% to 40% of their revenue from fees.

"I would love it if my agency were there," he said of Arvada Travel House, in Broomfield, Colo. (formerly Travel Partners), which matches the ASTA profile. "We can't adapt our fees either."

Business mix matters when it comes to assessing fees. Among the Travel Leaders Group's franchised agencies, for example, 50% collect fees for some custom service, and 55% charge for complex trips, according to Steve Loucks, vice president of communications. He said fees of all types account for 30% to 40% of revenue among the affiliates, but their business mix skews to the corporate side, typically 60%.

Virtuoso finds that its members' fees for leisure sales account for between 8% and 24% of revenue, said Helen Nodland, senior manager of adviser development. The group would like to see it rise "significantly," to between 50% and 100%, she said.

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