This job has a surprisingly rosy outlook

How will you plan your next vacation?

Travel agents were once the method of choice for booking your next getaway. Now, online applications have allowed consumers to directly navigate complex purchase decisions like airline tickets. So travel agents are going the way of film projection operators, right?

A surprising comeback

After some difficult years, travel agent jobs are making a slight but definite comeback. Travel agent jobs fell from 2000-2003, likely as a result of improved travel websites, and then again from 2008-2012 during the financial crisis.

All told, travel agent jobs fell from 143,000 in 2001 to 73,000 in 2011, according to CareerTrend.com. That knocked out about half of the entire profession. CareerTrend gathers data from several public data sets according to their methodology page.

Travel_Agent_Trend
Travel agent jobs have made a comeback since 2011. Expectations of a continued drop have been proven incorrect.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) publishes job projections every 2 years. The projection was for continued decline in ’12, ’14 and ’16. Despite the projections of a decline, travel agent jobs actually rose to 81,700 in 2016, a rise of more than 10% from the bottom in 2011.

What could account for the recent rise?

Corporate travel

It’s not just the BLS reporting an improving market for travel agents. According to a 2016 article in Travel Market Report, the outlook for travel agents is “merry and bright”.

This is being fueled by high demand for corporate travel, according to the article. An important skill for corporate travel agents is using a GDS (global distribution system), which is a technically sophisticated system that has direct access to airline seats and other travel inventory.

Growing interest

Negative expectations have been the norm for years in the industry, but green shoots are starting to emerge.

Travel Market Report writes:

At the same time, demand for travel-agency services seems to be growing across the board. MMGY’s annual Portrait of American Travelers showed the use of agents has been growing for four consecutive years

Google searches about travel agents have also recovered slightly in the last few years.

Travel Agent Search Trend
Google Trends search for the topic “Travel Agents” — From 2004-2018

A rising tide

It’s hard to say exactly why more people are searching for and using travel agents. One factor is certainly an improving economy and a growing travel sector.

The travel industry is growing in the U.S. and internationally.

According to Statista.com, from 2010 to 2016:

Digital skepticism

Independent or local travel agents may also be viewed as more trustworthy in an era of skepticism about big tech companies and data security.

Indeed, earlier this year, the travel site Orbitz (owned by Expedia) reported a data breach affecting at least 800,000 customers.

For consumers concerned about privacy and security, a local, trusted travel agent may be an option that provides more peace of mind.

Decision fatigue

Perhaps another reason people choose travel agents over booking themselves is the sheer volume of travel options available. When too many options are available, people may have a harder time deciding. Rather then spend all that time combing through reviews and websites, people may be happier if they leave it to a professional who knows their preferences.

Vacations are supposed to be relaxing, after all.

Upscale travel

New travel companies are focusing on unique and upscale experiences. Atlas Obscura is a Brooklyn-based startup in the travel and media industries.

Atlas Obscura’s trips focus on unique elements of local culture in under-the-radar destinations. These trips don’t come cheap. A tour of mountaintop Bhutanese festivals will run you $5,000–excluding airfare which could be another $2,000.

bhutan-bhutanese-city-738926.jpg
A masked person in Bhutan. Atlas Obscura offers tours of unexpected cultural events.

The model of upscale cultural travel seems to be working. Atlas Obscura raised $7.5 million in 2017.

The verdict

So should you become a travel agent? Travel agents are not likely to get rich, with median annual earnings of $36,460 in 2016, but the occupation has other upsides.

Travel Market Report reported that many travel agents are freelancers. The ability to work for yourself from home–especially in the travel industry–is attractive to many people, perhaps especially millennials.

The BLS also has more recent numbers, recorded in the Consumer Population Survey, which includes freelance and self-employed workers.

In one year from 2016 to 2017, the number of people who reported working as travel agents, including the self-employed, increased from 83,000 to 87,000 or about 5%.

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