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Jobs Outlook: Travel Agents




Employment of travel agents is expected to decline through 2014. Most openings will occur as experienced agents transfer to other occupations or leave the labor force. Because of the projected decline in employment and the fact that a number of people are attracted by the travel benefits associated with this occupation, keen competition for jobs is expected. Travel agents who specialize and can utilize the Internet to reduce their costs and better compete with other travel suppliers should have the best chance for success.

The Internet increasingly allows people to access travel information from their personal computers, enabling them to research and plan their own trips, make their own reservations and travel arrangements, and purchase their own tickets. As a result, demand will decline for travel agents who simply take orders, such as booking tickets for a specified date and time. Also, domestic airlines no longer pay commissions to travel agencies, which has reduced revenues and caused some agencies to go out of business. This change also has led many travel agents to begin charging fees for their services. To justify those fees, customers expect travel agents to provide good service and travel expertise. Opportunities may be better for agents who specialize in specific destinations, luxury travel, or particular types of travelers such as ethnic groups or groups with a special interest or hobby. Many consumers still prefer to use a professional travel agent to plan a complete trip; to deal with some of the more complex transactions; to ensure reliability; to suggest excursions or destinations that might otherwise be missed; to save time; or, in some cases, to save money.

Several factors should offset the adverse effect of Internet travel arrangement and the loss of revenues from airline bookings. For example, spending on tourism and travel is expected to increase over the next decade. With rising household incomes, smaller families, and an increasing number of older people who are more likely to travel, more people are expected to travel on vacation—and to do so more frequently—than in the past. Business travel also should rebound from recession and terrorism-related declines as business activity expands. Business travel also should increase as U.S. businesses open more foreign operations and businesses increasingly sell their goods and services worldwide. In addition, luxury and specialty travel should increase among the growing number of Americans with the available time and money for these more expensive trips.

Another positive factor is the increasing affordability of air travel. Greater competition among airlines, especially from low-cost carriers, has brought airfares within the budgets of more people. In addition, American travel agents now organize more tours for the growing number of foreign visitors. Also, travel agents often are able to offer various travel packages at a substantial discount.

The demand for travel is sensitive to economic downturns and international political crises, when travel plans are likely to be deferred. Therefore, the number of job opportunities for travel agents fluctuates. However, the number of travelers has risen recently, possibly reflecting demand from consumers who delayed travel because of terrorism and safety concerns. Demand for travel remains volatile, though, and trends could change at any time.