Did you know that travel advisors drive a major part of the travel industry, support the growth of small business, and are uniquely responsible for some of the most interesting parts of the future of travel?
It’s ok – a lot of people don’t know that, either.
Following up on our co-founder Henley Vazquez’s recent conversation with Beth Santos of the leading women’s travel community Wanderful, we’re breaking down some of the surprising ways that travel advisors are moving the travel industry forward, and the lessons we can all take away from them.
Love all of this? Catch a replay of the livestream for the full conversation.
1. People are craving human connection more than ever, and travel advisors are fostering it
Contrary to popular belief, travel advisors are not limited to an old lady in a crumbling travel agency flipping through a three-ring binder. And they’re not fading away. They’re actually one of the most powerful cogs churning in the travel industry – even today – representing $100 billion in the US alone every year.
If this news comes as a surprise to you, you’re not alone. Most people think that travel advisors don’t exist anymore – and yet they’re being hired more than ever for everything from bucket list travel adventures to quick work trips and staycations. If you’re still wondering where your travel credits are from that canceled flight back in 2020, or have worried about how to manage the travel and testing restrictions in a future destination, you, too, might be feeling the value of travel advisors more than you have before.
In fact, according to Travel Agent Central, 44 percent of people are planning to use travel advisors more than they did before, showing us that travel advisors aren’t just a thing of the past – they’re making an increasingly complicated part of the travel industry simpler and more straightforward.
Let’s break it down. If you’re planning a trip to a place you’ve never been to before, you’ve likely felt the frustration in finding the right place to stay. Aggregators and online searches give you hundreds – if not thousands – of choices to sift through. It’s overwhelming.
Now imagine you have access to someone with a direct connection to a hotel property: she knows the General Manager. She’s visited before and knows all the hidden gems of the hotel. She can set you up with free breakfast and it all costs you nothing. Working with a travel advisor isn’t just a helpful service: it’s an opportunity to add a level of real, human connection to your travel planning process.
2. Travel advisors contribute to virtuous cycles & create ripple effects for economic opportunity
Here’s something that might surprise you: travel advisors actually give back to the industry more than any other booking mechanism, period. When you book with a travel advisor, you’re supporting a small business (the travel advisor), as well as investing more money into the hotel, without spending anything more. It’s a virtuous cycle that allows you to give back directly to the businesses you want to support, all while costing you nothing extra, AND getting rewarded with insider intel, perks, and more.
This is particularly special if you’re staying at a woman- or minority-owned hotel or a small business that you want to invest your dollars in. Working with a travel advisor gives the hotel a larger cut of the commission than a booking platform like Booking.com, allowing you to be an “investor” in the places you want to see more of.
This is also why many travel advisors come armed with perks like free breakfast and upgrades. It’s because the travel advisors are already bringing hotels a better customer that costs them less money to acquire, and the extra perks are the way a hotel can say “thanks.”
3. The travel advisor space is led by women, and is opening doors for gender parity
Women have always been a huge part of decision-making in travel. But (especially when those decisions are made in a domestic rather than professional setting), they are not always compensated for that work. Think about all of the amazing family trips that Mom or Grandma planned (or maybe a girlfriend, daughter, or sister), and all the hours she put in. And now, imagine a world where she could actually get paid for that.
Travel agents disrupt this landscape by helping women and other small business owners earn an income for their mental labor – and the system is working. In a larger industry where women make up only a small portion of senior leadership roles, women actually comprise 72.5 percent of travel advisors, making it one of the few industries of the world that is actually largely woman-led.
4. Travel isn’t one-size-fits-all, and inclusion is good business
The thing that aggregators get wrong is that travel is different for everyone. Two people could have entirely different experiences in a single hotel, especially if each traveler is coming in with different embedded expectations around service, culture, character and other qualities. One person’s cute funky restaurant could be another person’s worst nightmare – a lot depends on what each traveler is looking for.
This is one of the failures of online aggregators, which often end up spitting out results that please the largest number of people, guaranteeing a “good” experience that everyone can agree on but maybe not one that is particularly unique or surprising (which, paradoxically, are qualities that travelers often look for in a special travel experience).
Much like how travel experiences aren’t always the same, neither are the travelers themselves – and neither, therefore, should be the travel advisors making those recommendations in the first place. Travel advisors as a segment of the industry have an opportunity to be as diverse as travel itself, bringing more focus to lived experiences and personality rather than what’s pleasing to the biggest subset of consumers.
“We actually had one of our advisors featured in USA Today today,” Henley mentioned. “She’s a paraplegic and she has traveled the world in a wheelchair. That’s not somebody who’s usually featured when we talk about travel stories. When you’re a person with your own disability, do you want to talk to [an advisor] who can walk comfortably up a flight of stairs or do you want to talk to someone who has the same issue? Inclusion is good business because you’re actually able to serve more people in an authentic way.”
5. A more modern travel agency can empower anyone to be an entrepreneur
In a world where 80 to 85 percent of travel decisions are made by women-identifying consumers but travel leadership is still mostly white and male, the travel advisor space can leave clues for us on how to diversify the travel industry as a whole. A large portion of that starts with removing barriers to entry and risk, and making it so that anyone can start a travel business, even if you’re coming from a space of limited capital or corporate skills.
“We have to be more flexible in terms of how we approach people’s work,” Henley said. “It’s not a work ethic issue. It’s a matter of ‘how am I going to pay my bills?’” Allowing people to control the levers of their own work input allows a wider diversity of travel advisors to explore entrepreneurship from a position of lower financial risk, as new advisors can dip their toes in while managing other commitments and responsibilities.
Looking for more insight on what a travel advisor actually does? Read our post: what is a travel agent? Or, if you're ready to get started, we've rounded up a post with all of our tips on how to become a travel advisor. Be sure to check out our guide to turning your passion for travel into $$$, too.
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