For the love of the game
e are starting to get some credible figures that may serve to
help us understand where the retail travel agent commu-
nity stands at this moment. Join me as we step back and
look at ourselves, our “old” selves.
We know that a whole lot
of us have stopped paying rent to the shopping center landlord, preferring to pay a
lower rent to the host agency. Or some of us
simply work out of that spare bedroom the
kids don’t use anymore.
We know that home-based agents are real
and they are a force — and that they sell far
less on a per-person basis than the average
Girl Scout during the annual cookie sale.
We know that the cruise industry is so integral to the success of the retail community
that a serious event at sea could have a crippling effect on the short-term survival of
But the results of the new ASTA survey of
its membership points to some trends that
are worthy of further examination.
The first thing you learn from this study is
that we are all getting old. How old? Eighty-eight percent of us are over the age of 44.
But 40% of us are over 55, and that number
That means that unless there is a major
pattern shift, it won’t be very long before
nearly half of all travel agents are just a
few years away from getting mailings from
AARP. And I have always believed that we all
ought to be on AARP’s mailing list. Those
folks warrant watching.
There are those who wring their hands
at the failure of our industry to attract the
young. I am not
one who loses
sleep over the
lack of youth in
our business. The only thing a young travel
consultant can do for me is introduce me to
older travel consultants with some history
and some destinations under their belt.
I don’t mind young surgeons. Perhaps
they have been exposed to new techniques
than larger agencies.
The survey talked about what we sell.
The largest single category is “tour packages,” at 31%. The term, of course, includes
any number of products, from a three-day
experience at Hedonism to an escorted tour of the world’s loveliest gardens by private jet.
It would be interesting to know
what percentage of the average agency mix is fully escorted
tours. Take that out, and the 26%
of agency business that is cruises
Air sales are half of what they
were in 2000, when they accounted for 50% of total agency sales.
But the really good news is that just under 60% of us actually managed to make a
profit in 2006, a time of stock market gains
and a spurt in travel abroad.
When you do even the most rudimentary analysis of this business, you must be
drawn to the conclusion that majority of its
practitioners do it mostly for the love of the
and machinery at medical school
my old doc knows nothing
But I just don’t have that same
feeling about recent travel school
graduates when compared with
some 60-year-old destination
specialist who lives and breathes,
say, Africa as a speciality. I do be- Richard Turen
lieve that it ought to be illegal for
anyone under 27 to advise anyone over 40
about where and how they should spend the
most important moments of their lives.
The ASTA survey also showed that most
of us ancients are still in “
brick-and-mortar” agencies, about 75% of us.
Of course that’s only brick-and-mortar
buildings. I suspect that when you add in
those travel agents who work in buildings
made of wood or aluminum siding, the figure would be much higher.
The majority of us just sort of get by.
We’re no world beaters, and we don’t enjoy
the responsibility of large payrolls. Fifty-three percent of ASTA members this year report total gross sales of less then $2 million.
About half of these agencies do less then
$1 million. They are the travel tinkers.
Only 9% of us do more than $10 million.
There is a rather big shift in the growth of
those who sell more than $5 million annually. That figure has grown about 2% a year
since 2000 and
is now at about
By my defini-
tion, four out of every five agencies is small,
under $5 million. Of course, as any of the
large players will tell you, these small agencies that don’t sell air, have found a niche
and make at least 15% commission may
be making a far higher percentage of profit
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Kent M.C. Lau
I had promised, dear readers, to let you
know if the Kent family made their tight
connection in Paris, as assigned by Royal
Caribbean’s air scheduling software [“Blind
faith,” May 21].
The Kents, flying back to Chicago, made
their flight due to a delay out of Paris. They
literally had to run to make it. Their mother,
who was traveling with them, didn’t run,
and missed her connection to New York.
As for the luggage, sure enough, two of
the family members had missing suitcases
when they arrived home. The luggage has
since been found and returned.
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Contributing editor Richard Turen owns
Churchill and Turen, a vacation-planning
company, and has been named to Conde
Nast’s list of the World’s Top Travel Specialists
since the list began. Contact him at rturen@
Dean Blaine, Mark Chesnut, Harvey Chipkin,
Laura Del Rosso, Bob Joselyn, Felicity Long,
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Allan Seiden, Jorge Sidron, Richard Turen
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cases you make the connection; however,
there is a good chance your checked baggage
is left behind.
As someone who has been in the business for many years, Turen could have written a much better article: He spent almost
all of his time on the problem and not on
the solution. Would I want him as my travel
Stuart Hartzell, President
As a travel consultant, I appreciate that
[Turen’s column] shows why the people
part of the equation is so important.
I sure hope the Kents put their itinerary
in the luggage so it would get to them eventually.
Thanks for a piece I can use to help clients
understand when I say, “I think you should
book independent air because ...”
Terra Mar Travel
Editor’s note: Columnist Richard Turen told
Travel Weekly readers he would let them
know what happened to the Kent family as
they tried to make a short connection in Paris.
Read his Reality Check column on this page
to find out.
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