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American Society of Travel Agents

2003 Ends on brighter note for travel agents

As 2003 comes to a close, the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) reports that travel agencies are…

As 2003 comes to a close, the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) reports that travel agencies are continuing to expand and hire new, full-time staff as the number of medium- and large-sized agencies increases. ASTA`s Travel Agency Profile survey found that the average ASTA agency has between five and six (5.7) full-time employees (up from 4.6 in 2002) and that the number of agencies reporting sales of $5 million or more has increased since last year, up from 12.5 percent to 15.1 percent. The report also found that travel agents are increasingly Internet-savvy, with 98.3 percent of respondents reporting that they have Internet access at their agency. Since 1995 Internet usage among agents has increased by 310 percent.

I`m optimistic about the year to come and the future of travel agents. Even though 2003 did not shape up to be the year the travel industry was hoping for, it was far from the state of the industry two short years ago, said Richard M. Copland, CTC, ASTA president and CEO. Travel agents are working smarter and harder and it`s paying off in higher overall sales revenues, agency growth and a renewed interest in travel among consumers.

As evidence of this growth, agencies are also hiring part-time and outside staff. Today nearly 90 percent (89.8%) of travel agencies employ one or more part-time agents and 86.9% of agencies work with at least one independent contractor, compared to 75 percent in 2002. On average, travel agencies that work with independent contractors work with five outside agents.

Among other findings:

Sales volume and mix

  • While the number of agencies reporting sales of more than $5 million has grown, agencies reporting sales of less than $2 million still comprise roughly half (50.6%) of ASTA`s membership.

  • In 2002, airline sales accounted for 32.1 percent of an agency`s sales, down from 54 percent in 2001. For 2004, they expect the average percentage of airline ticket sales to decrease to 27.2 percent of total sales.

  • This decrease was mitigated by an increase in the sale of cruises and tour packages compared to previous years. Projected figures for 2004 show a further increase of tour package and cruise sales while hotel, car rental and other sales are projected to remain the same.

  • Leisure sales make up 73.7 percent of an agency`s total sales mix, up from 64.5 percent in 2000.

  • As in 2002, Americans are traveling closer to home as reflected by the fact that for the second year running, ASTA agencies report that domestic sales make up approximately 60 percent of their business.

Internet usage

  • Eighty-nine percent (89.2%) of agencies provide Internet access for every staff member at their own workstations, up from 2001 when 74.4 percent of agents had access at their work stations.

  • Online booking by agents is up compared to last year with more than 76 percent of ASTA agencies reporting they have booked directly on supplier`s Web sites. In 2001, 51.6 percent reported they had booked online.

  • Tours continue to be the number one product booked online by ASTA agencies with airline tickets and hotel reservations rounding out the top three.

  • Agencies with a Web site account for 59.5 percent of surveyed agencies. Of those agencies, 35.6 percent provide some kind of online booking capabilities.

  • E-mail has become an indispensable part of today`s communications used by 94.7 percent of ASTA agents.

Global Distribution System Usage

  • The number of agencies using a Global Distribution System (GDS) to make travel reservations remained stable. Just over 90 percent of agencies currently subscribe to one or more GDS; 93.8 percent of agencies use just one system.

  • Sabre remains the most popular GDS when looking at the primary system used by ASTA agencies.

  • The majority of agencies (81.4%) use the Internet always or occasionally to compare online prices to those found in their GDS.

  • ASTA agents book close to 90 percent of all air bookings through the GDS, with a median of 95.0 percent.

  • Agents use the GDS much less frequently for booking cruises and tours-only 28.3 percent of all cruises are booked through the GDS and 35.8 percent of all tours.

Agency demographics

  • The average ASTA agency has been in business 22 years and has been a member of ASTA for 17 years.

  • Regionally, more than half (57.7%) of ASTA members are on the East Coast, 16.6 percent are in the Midwest and 26 percent are based in the West.

Theodore Koumelis
Co-Founder & Managing Director - Travel Media Applications | Website

Theodore is the Co-Founder and Managing Editor of TravelDailyNews Media Network; his responsibilities include business development and planning for TravelDailyNews long-term opportunities.