NEW YORK — Realizing that consumers like to "click around," travel agents should insert themselves into the "dreaming and planning" process of a trip, ASTA CEO Zane Kerby said in describing the findings of the Society's extensive consumer survey.
ASTA's report, "How America Travels," found that 57% of American travelers said they handle most or all of their vacation planning by themselves. What's more, many of them like doing it. Focus groups conducted as part of the study indicated that consumers get pleasure from the trip-planning process, something that Kerby said travel agents need to be a part of rather than trying to replace.
"We are not taking away the consumer's ability to click around," Kerby said. "The travel agent's message has to be, 'Get out and see everything online, and then come talk to me — or while you're doing it, let's do it together.'"
The study found that 70% of millennial men handle most or all vacation planning on their own, and they are the demographic most likely to do so. Baby boomer women, at 43%, are the least likely to handle most or all vacation planning on their own.
Since millennial men spend significantly more on travel than other demographics, travel agents would do well to tap into that market.
The survey found that about 20% of Americans use a travel agent, a number that Kerby said has risen steadily, from about 14%, since he began at ASTA in 2013.
In trying to capture the 80% of Americans who don't use agents, ASTA makes the case that going after younger travelers makes good business sense since members of Generations X and Y spend more on lodging and activities than baby boomers do, and millennials are already the generation most likely to use a travel agent.
Agents can also tap into the perception among Americans that they are not able to get the best deals on their own. The survey found that fewer than half of American travelers said they are "very confident" they can find the best price when booking the major elements of a vacation without some help.
This view is especially common when it comes to areas where agents are traditionally strong. Only a quarter of respondents said they are very confident they will find the best price when they book their own cruises and tour packages.
Hotels and airfare are the vacation components that Americans are most confident about booking themselves.
Kerby said that while ASTA's messaging last year had to do with how travel agents save consumers time and money, this year the Society is focusing on the ways agents can make trips easier and better by knowing their clients and what they really want. In that realm, the study found that millennials are more interested than older travelers in paying for experiences, an area in which travel agents can readily demonstrate their expertise.
"They are buying packages from travel agents in greater numbers than other groups and looking at the whole travel experience," Kerby said. "They are not coming in and saying, 'I want to book air or a hotel'; they are saying, 'Help me find the right things to do in a particular destination.'"
ASTA will release more findings from the report over the next few months. The survey of 1,522 Americans ages 25 to 70 was conducted from April 9 to 17 by the PSB market research group.