A third of travel advisors gone? Talking numbers at USTOA

SAN DIEGO — The USTOA Conference hadn’t even begun and attendees already were buzzing over some interesting numbers — some on marketing from Google and some on the state of the travel advisor community from a panel of tour operator executives — at a pre-conference forum Wednesday morning. 

Google’s Matt Rogers, head of industry for travel, suggested that being prepared for the changing dynamics of the travel industry begins with a focus on data. Some key numbers on his mind are:

• Searches for “best place to stay,” which have grown 60%, and “last minute hotel deals,” which have grown 70%. “We’re starting to see green shoots and that’s exciting,” he said.

• “Domestic still reigns supreme but we are seeing energy in international travel,” where the desire to travel has grown by 150% from March to October. (To track Covid trends around the world, check out Google’s Covid-19 Community Mobility Reports.)

• Travel is more meaningful than ever. Nearly 1/3 of travelers are looking to visit family. Where Google searches “used to be about where they want to go, now it’s, ‘Can I go home and see my family?'”

• Eighty-six percent of black travelers say they seek out experiences that relate to their culture when they travel. The makeup of a marketing team matters when it comes to being relevant to members of minority groups; “you need those voices in the room.”

Two more marketing tips he offered: You can reach out to Google for consumer surveys that are statistically valid for any specific location; Google can create these in minutes. And to make sure a company’s sustainability initiatives come up when potential customers Google the topic, they should be sure to list them in their Google My Business profile.

A third of travel advisors gone? 

Perhaps the most interesting number was a guess at the number of travel advisors who left the business during the pandemic. Asking the tour operator panel for their estimates, Ricarda Lindner of the German National Tourist Office started off the discussion by suggesting it’s 30%.

AmaWaterways co-owner and senior vice president of sales Gary Murphy said, “We’ve lost a lot, maybe 30% to 40%, but they were the ones on the edges.” The advisors that remain are the core dedicated full-timers who now are bringing in a stream of young faces, he added.

“I think there has been significant growth on the home-based side,” said Shayna Elly Zand, director of partnerships at Intrepid Group. While many agencies have closed their brick-and-mortar offices, Intrepid’s host agency partners have been adding staff. 

And Insight Vacations president Guy Young said he believes many who have left are simply taking a break while business is slow, turning to other ventures to get through until business returns.

“I do think the industry will rebuild itself,” he said. “I believe it’s a strong long-term channel.”

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