Travel industry sees interest take off

By Anna Harris (File photo)

Is the travel industry gaining newfound steam? At least one local agency has seen interest pick up — an anecdote that matches the results of a recently released national survey.

Lida Behnam, owner of Lida Travel Inc., has noticed an increase in her business so far this year. Though Behnam can’t fully account for why people suddenly want to travel through an agent, “I’m glad that they do,” she said.

Behnam isn’t alone in experiencing a boost, according to the latest market research from the Alexandria-based American Society of Travel Agents. Among the findings was a marked uptick in performance and client numbers over the first half of last year.

After a rocky decade, travel agents — as well as leadership at the national organization — are optimistic that people are returning to agencies for their vacation needs.

“ASTA members are benefiting from the appetite consumers have for travel,” said Zane Kerby, the president and CEO of the organization. “Consumer studies have shown that Americans say travel makes them happier. Leveraging the experience and expertise of an ASTA travel agent can maximize one’s travel experience. ”

In fact, the travel bug has bitten people around the world, regardless of whether they work with an agent. A global study released by Visa shows that globetrotters plan to increase their travel budgets by 40 percent over last year.

Visa’s findings are backed up by another survey this year from TripAdvisor, which indicated 50 percent of vacationers from across the globe plan on increasing their travel budgets.

The American Society of Travel Agents conducted its survey by bringing together agency representatives from mom-and-pop shops to multinational corporations. The panel discussed how they were doing so far that year, and the majority exuded optimism.

“We put together a panel every year of about 500 travel agencies of various sizes that match what the industry looks like,” said Melissa Teates, the director of research at the trade group. “The panel reflects what’s going on in the industry.”

Why might travelers seek out an agent instead of booking and planning a trip on their own? After all, the Internet has made it easy enough. But, according to Teates, agencies are invaluable in navigating a complex and occasionally corrupt system.

Letting an agent handle the logistics takes the worry out of booking a trip, she said.

“[Travelers] want people with experience to make sure they’re dealing with legitimate people for safety while they’re abroad,” Teates said. “[It’s about making] sure you’re getting the trip that you paid for.”

And inconveniences pop up while traveling across the United States and abroad. Agents can help with anything from canceled flights to disasters to wedding fiascos.

“No one wants to be stranded,” said Teates.

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