New consumer research from ASTA reveals that the public perception of what they define as a "travel agent" differs from a "travel adviser," with the former associated with getting travel deals and the latter viewed as a destination insider and expert.

The Society on Friday released its 2018 consumer research, "How America Travels," which was sponsored by Carnival Corp. In total, 2,879 adult travelers in a Kantar TNS Lightspeed Research consumer panel were surveyed. In the past year, 1,370 had used a travel professional, while 1,509 had not.

"We purposely didn't define in advance what a travel agent or travel adviser was," said Eben Peck, the Society's executive vice president of advocacy. "We were trying to draw out consumer perceptions about what the role of each is, in their minds."

The survey found that most consumers book their trips through OTAs or online supplier websites (33% and 34%, respectively). Eleven percent typically book on the phone or in person with a travel professional, and another 9% book online through a travel professional's booking tool. Eight percent typically book on the phone with a supplier, and the remaining 5% answered "other" as to booking tendencies.

The survey found that consumers who said they've used a travel agent in the past 12 months said their main role is to find the best deals (33%), followed by planning or booking complex trips (28%) and help with avoiding planning and booking mistakes (24%).

Among those who said they have ever used a travel adviser -- a pool of 819 consumers using specifically that term -- 42% said their main reason was because of that adviser's expert or insider information on destinations. Another 39% said advisers specifically provide a high level of service and 35% said they are someone that can assist if travel disruptions have occurred.

"While consumers turn to travel agents first and foremost for the best deals on travel, those who have used a travel adviser view these travel professionals primarily as sources of expert destination insight and high levels of customer services," the survey states.

There were 2,060 respondents who said they've never used a travel adviser, but 42% said a reason to start using one is for help in booking an unfamiliar destination, followed by their expertise or insider information on destinations (40%) and access to hotels, airlines and cruises (33%).

The survey found that consumers who reported using either a travel agent or a travel adviser reported being more satisfied with the overall quality of their vacations than those who hadn't. They were also more satisfied with the overall frequency of vacations they take. Consumers using either agents and advisers were also very likely to recommend their travel professional.

While only 15% of users of travel professional said they used their agent or adviser for every trip, 31% said they use them for most trips, and 16% said they use them for complex trips. Eighteen percent use them for some trips, 17% for very few trips and 4% never or extremely rarely.

Those survey-takers who haven't used an agent in the past 12 months said the top reasons were because they didn't want to pay service or consultation fees (41%), they feel they can organize the best trip for themselves (40%) or they prefer to do their own research (36%).

All survey respondents were 18 or over, have traveled overnight and stayed in paid accommodations for leisure travel in the past 12 months and had a household income of $50,000 or higher. 

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