Which age group is most likely to use traditional travel agents to book air and hotel stays? I’d have guessed the Baby Boomer generation (which includes me), because we grew up in the pre-Internet days, when the likes of Expedia and Booking.com simply didn’t exist.
During my formative years, as a traveler and a consumer, it was either a travel agent, or book directly with the travel supplier. Even with the advent of online travel agencies, I’d have expected those early booking patterns to persist to some extent. Old habits die hard, right?
As it turns out, my expectations are just plain wrong. According to a just-released study by the American Society of Travel Agents, Millennials—who grew up in the age of self-booking and online travel agencies—are the leading users of brick-and-mortar travel agents. They’re also the group most likely to recommend travel agents to friends and family.
The study doesn’t attempt to explain the confounding finding. And I can’t make sense of it myself, either. Is it part of a generational hankering for all things retro? A negative reaction to the over-digitalization of life in general? A yearning for a bit of human hand-holding?
Another noteworthy, and surprising, study result: In the past 12 months, 22 percent of the respondents had booked travel through an agent. That’s a much higher percentage than I would have predicted. So, yet another of my assumptions upended.
Unsurprisingly, given ASTA’s mission to promote the interests of travel agents, the survey’s conclusion is an optimistic one:
At this point, consumers have tried it all—they’ve booked online, they’ve gone direct, and they’ve used a travel agent. This study dispels once and for all the myth that booking direct with suppliers or spending hours online yourself gets you a better deal or gives you a happier travel experience. In short, if you want a better travel experience, use an agent.
Travel agents: still a thing. Who knew?
Reader Reality Check
Do you use travel agents? Would you? Should you?
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After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.