In this Internet age, some travel agents are taking steps to reinvent themselves and the industry. Our Valarie D'Elia filed the following report.
After airline deregulation in 1978, travel agents lost most of their ticket commissions. Next, the advent of online bookings threw them for a loop.
"This threat that the Internet and technology is going to eradicate the need for the travel agent has never come to be," says Robin Tauck of Tauck World Discovery.
Recently, the American Society of Travel Agents, or ASTA, came together in Merida, Mexico for a destination expo, with a new leader and a new vision.
"Actually levels the playing field," says Zane Kerby, president and CEO of ASTA. "More and more agents are using technology, specifically social media, in order to reach out to their customers."
One of the most noticeable changes in the status of the 80-year-old travel organization is the emphasis on attracting a new generation.
"Every time I talk to someone, it's an easy sell," says Ryan McGredy, president of the ASTA Young Professionals Society. "They're like, 'Wait, there's someone that will do that for me, that will save me those hours on the Internet, and I'll feel safer with?"
Although, operating in an atmosphere of information overload can be challenging.
"It's definitely extremely competitive because of the pricing and because of the service that we offer," says Chris Minoletti of Bay World Travel. "It's sometimes difficult to match pricing and beat pricing that people can find."
Travel agents have also had to rejigger their compensation structure to survive.
"We make money, obviously, not from airlines anymore, but from service fees for domestic and international flights, for service fees for our time for research, and we still we get commissions from a lot of cruise lines, hotels. We work with consolidators," Minoletti says.
Don't be afraid to ask agents about preferred commission agreements with suppliers to understand how they might undermine or enhance your best interests.