Travel agents are back big-time, US research indicates


Research by a major US travel marketing company has shown a 50% increase in the numbers of travellers who plan to use a travel agent on their next trip – a dramatic revelation that stands on its head any predictions of a decline in use of travel agents.

Steve Cohen, vice president of insights at MMGY, which describes itself as “the largest integrated marketing firm in travel” told US publication Travel Market Report that MMGY research over the past three or four years had shown a “huge jump” in travellers planning to use an agent – and the trend was particularly marked this year.

MMGY found that use of travel agents in the US was at a six-year high, a trend being driven not by the Baby Boomer generation but by the much younger Millennials.

Millennials, usually defined as the tech-savvy generation born between 1982 and 2000 (so aged 16 to 35, roughly), are often associated with technology and social media – and the research showed that 34% of them reported using a travel agent. The more money they spent on travel, the more likely they were to use an agent. The finding indicates that they know the value of professional advice.

While just 16% of American travellers used a traditional travel agent during the past 12 months – and planned to do so during the next two years – that proportion is up five percentage points since 2011 and according to MMGY it’s “significantly higher than each of the previous five years”.

Travellers who use agents do so frequently, for 50% of their travel. Research shows the typical American travel agency customer to be lucrative: 39 years old, married with children, with an annual household income of USD 145,875 (AUD 194,032). The typical customer users agents mainly because they value expertise, trust and ease; but 86% also say that using an agent gives them more control over their trip, and 79% believe a travel agent will find the best price.

Cohen told Travel Market Report “word of mouth” was the main way travellers learned about the travel agent they used – quite surprising in an era of social media and mass communication.

In the online sphere, MMGY found that American travellers have typically turned to travel supplier websites for inspiration and have relied heavily on online travel agents for booking.

“However, our research shows that these roles are reversing. When looking for travel and inspiration for their next vacation, just 18% of travellers turn to sites, down six points from 2015. However, 21% turn to online travel agents during this phase of the purchase path. Likewise, 32% of travellers prefer to book directly from travel suppliers, compared to 31% who book on online travel agent sites.

“There are other signs of this role reversal, as well:

* Half of all travellers who flew to their vacation destinations during the past 12 months typically booked their flights through an airline website or app, while only a third used an online travel agent website or app.

* 40% of travellers now typically book accommodations through a hotel website or app, while only a third booked through an online travel agent website or app.”

Big bonuses this week for 8200 Air New Zealand staff

Air New Zealand will pay 8200 of its staff up to NZD 2500 each this week to help celebrate its best annual financial result ever.

The sum, equivalent to AUD 2390, came after the airline reported a 40% leap in full-year pre-tax profit of NZD 663 million.  New Zealand’s continuing tourism boom and lower fuel prices have boosted passenger numbers to produce the best result in the airline’s 76-year history.

Air New Zealand said 8200 staff members would receive the money.

The result comes a week after a record profit by Qantas on the other side of the Tasman, which also produced a bonus for staff.

Air New Zealand announced earnings before other significant items and tax for the 2016 financial year of NZD 806 million, compared to NZD 474 million in the prior year. Earnings before tax were NZD 663 million with net profit after taxation of NZD 463 million, an increase of 40% and 42%, respectively.

Other significant items included NZD 86 million related to the partial divestment of Virgin Australia and NZD 57 million related to settlement of a long-standing class action cargo legal claim.

Chairman Tony Carter paid tribute to the airline’s staff, who were “critical to its success.

“We recognise the importance of working collaboratively with our unions through our High Performance Engagement program to achieve results that benefit both our business and our people. This has been an important contributor to our ability to achieve efficiencies,” he said.

Chief executive Christopher Luxon said the airline ended the year with “customer satisfaction at record highs, brand health in excellent shape, the number one corporate reputation in New Zealand, and the staff culture at the airline continuing to further improve”.

“These are the best results ever in our 76 year history and I am extremely proud of the airline’s achievements, our people and the contribution we make to supercharging New Zealand’s success. Alongside connecting New Zealanders and Kiwi businesses with each other and the world, we employ 11,300 staff, will pay the Government around NZD 260 million in total dividends and will pay income tax of around NZD 200 million for the year,” Luxon said.

Looking ahead, he acknowledged competition would increase as strong tourist demand to visit New Zealand continued and other international airlines added capacity.

“There’s no doubt customers have more choice but we are confident that we have the right pricing, products and services to stay a step ahead of the competition as we grow our business at home and overseas,” Luxon said.

2016 Key achievements for Air New Zealand:

  • Record earnings before other significant items and taxation of NZD 806 million, up 70%
  • Record net profit before taxation of NZD 663 million, up 40%
  • Record net profit after taxation of NZD 463 million, up 42%
  • Operating revenue of NZD 5.2 billion, up 6.2% (3.8% excluding divestments and foreign exchange)
  • Passenger revenue of NZD 4.5 billion, up 8.9% (4.7% excluding foreign exchange)
  • Operating cash flow of NZD 1.1 billion, down 2.4%
  • Strong cash position of NZD 1.6 billion, up 21%
  • Gearing at 48.6%, an improvement of 3.8 percentage points
  • Fully imputed final ordinary dividend of 10.0 cents per share, bringing the 2016 full year fully imputed ordinary dividends to 20.0 cents per share, an increase of 25%
  • An additional fully imputed special dividend of 25.0 cents per share
  • Expected aircraft capital expenditure of NZD 2.1 billion over the next 5 years
  • Record customer satisfaction resulting from continued investment in aircraft, lounges, service quality and inflight experience
  • Company Performance Bonus for superior results of up to NZD 2,500 paid to all permanent employees who do not participate in a Short Term Incentive programme

Written by Peter Needham.

Agent trends: More use, more satisfaction with travel agents

When Heather Guilfoyle Solish abandoned a successful career as a lawyer with a New York hedge fund five years ago, she says her family and friends thought she was crazy.

Today, however, her business as a luxury leisure consultant with Classic Travel is thriving. And all indications are that it will continue to grow.

According to Travel Weekly’s 2016 Consumer Trends Survey, the number of people using agents to book travel has jumped to 28%, up from 26% in 2015, and a full 10 percentage points higher than those who said they used travel professionals in 2014.




Travelers are also increasingly happy with the service they get from agents, according to the survey. Satisfaction ratings for booking with travel agents have improved each year, with 66% now either “somewhat satisfied” or “extremely satisfied,” compared with 49% in 2012.

Industry experts cite a number of reasons for that trend: a spike in time-crunched millennials turning to agents, for example, to information overload and an overall increase in the quality of agents and the services they provide.
“The travel agency industry has refocused itself on selling our knowledge and expertise, so an individual traveler is much more likely to work with an agent who has been there, done that,” said Travel Leaders Group CEO Ninan Chacko. “That’s why innovative programs like our Agent Profiler that match travelers with specific agents based on everything from location to specialty niche have been so successful.”

Solish said she believes social media, specifically Facebook, is also helping fuel the rise in the numbers of travelers turning to agents.

“People see agents are traveling, know the hotels, know the hoteliers. We can actually help them get a lot of added value,” she said. “And there is so much advice on the internet, they don’t know who to trust. I have some clients who read TripAdvisor all day and drive themselves crazy.”

And while millennials are notoriously addicted to their devices, the survey shows they are far more likely than older travelers to have used an agent. Forty-five percent of travelers ages 21 to 34 said they had used an agent in the previous 12 months, compared with 31% last year. Only 28% of consumers ages 35 to 54 said they had used a professional travel consultant, and only 15% of those 55 and older said they had.




ASTA said its research shows similar trends. In a May survey, “Best of Both Worlds: How Travel Agents Save Consumers Time and Money,” 22% of consumers said they had booked their travel through an agent, the highest share reported in the past three years. That figure spiked to 30% for millennials. What’s more, 45% of the millennials polled also said they would recommend a travel agent to a friend or family member.

“At this point, consumers have tried it all. They’ve booked online, they’ve gone direct and they’ve used a travel agent,” said ASTA president Zane Kerby. “This [ASTA] 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.”

growth in agency sectors, though that growth is However, Douglas Quinby, the vice president of research for Phocuswright, said his group’s numbers indicated that direct booking was continuing to grow along with OTAs. He said they have seen stabilization and some well below online growth. The trend, he said, is driven by the economy and the growth in more complex travel.

“Today’s agent is a different animal from a decade ago,” he said.

“This is something we saw clearly in our own 2012 study on agencies,” Quinby said. “And I would expect that to hold true. [So] 2015 was a banner year, and 2016 is on track to be another one. Demand is high, and more U.S. travelers are not only taking more trips but doing more complex travel, more of the type of travel where hand-holding and support is valuable, which is what agencies have pivoted to over the past decade.”

Solish said she made her career change because she was unhappy working as a lawyer and always loved to travel. But she admitted that in the early days of building her business, she often was hesitant to even tell people she was a travel agent. ”I felt like there was stigma attached,” she said.

Today, she describes herself as “super busy,” and she said she is getting “a ton of referrals.”

“I have clients who have been using me for a while,” she said. “And, all of a sudden, their friends are asking.”


New Destination for Art: Upscale Hotels


The Beaumont in London features Antony Gormley’s ROOM, a sculpture in the shape of a crouching man, which doubles as a suite. CreditBeaumont Hotel

When the 73-room Beaumont Hotel opened its doors in London’s Mayfair district in 2014, it made an artistic statement so conspicuous that not even passers-by could disregard it. The building’s southernmost exterior is crowned by the British artist Antony Gormley’s inhabitable sculpture of a crouching man, which doubles as the property’s priciest and most conceptual suite.

But “ROOM,” the official name of Mr. Gormley’s sculpture, is only one element of a very deliberate artistic focus that the owners Jeremy King and Chris Corbin, two of London’s best-known restaurateurs, placed at the center of their concept, one that hinges on a fictional story that Mr. King created to establish a sense of place. Collected in a span of three years by Mr. King and his wife, Lauren Gurvich King, the art selection at the Beaumont works on two levels. “There is a simple decorative element that alludes to a particular period, but there is also a strong narrative,” Mr. King said. “Each work supports the back story I created about the New York hotelier Jimmy Beaumont who moved to London in the late ’20s to open his eponymous hotel.”

The art — a mix of more than 1,700 original paintings, photographs and prints that relate to places or people Jimmy would have known — serves to support the story and lend authenticity, the abiding buzzword today among hoteliers striving to offer guests an immersive and memorable experience. “If the art is not authentic when trying to create an atmosphere from a particular era, then you risk ending up with pastiche, when the intent is to celebrate the craftsmanship and creativity of the originals,” Mr. King said.

Similarly, the Lanesborough in London, which reopened last year after an 18-month design overhaul, features original works of art throughout the property, from public areas to guest rooms. The design teams on the project, Cabinet Alberto Pinto and Visto Images, a Paris art consultancy, conceived of an art collection that resembled that of the private residence of a wealthy Londoner, complete with the various types of art that could have been acquired in the 1830s.





A portrait at the Lanesborough Hotel.CreditLanesborough Hotel

“As the Lanesborough was built then as a hospital, we wanted to be faithful to the period and curate artworks that were authentic to the taste and style of the Regency period,” explained Alex Toledano, the president of Visto Images. The 2,000-some artworks, reflecting English taste at the time, are international, and were sourced not only from Britain but from France, Italy, Holland, Germany and China. They incorporate works on paper, hand-colored engravings, porcelain and paintings, including a pair of portraits from the 1750s by Sir Joshua Reynolds that hang in the entrance.

Whereas most new hotels favor designs that feel of the moment, Cabinet Alberto Pinto’s approach was to offer an Old English experience. “For so long there have been facsimiles used in hotels but guests today want and expect more,” said Amr Mandour, the studio’s lead decorator on the project. “There is a broad, intellectual movement toward authenticity in all areas of life and it’s our job as decorators to respond to that in our designs.”

That many upscale hotels have emphasized elaborate design concepts and curated artistic programs as a means to attract culture-hungry travelers isn’t all that rare in the industry. One of the pioneering examples of bridging the worlds of art and hospitality is 21c Museum Hotels, a boutique chain based in Louisville, Ky., that opened in 2006 and has properties in four other American cities, each with its own 21st-century art museum with curated exhibits open all day, every day, to the public and to guests.

Le Bristol in Paris, known for its classic 18th-century style with original works collected by the Oetker family, which owns the hotel, intends to draw those who love art but who may not be guests. In collaboration with Galerie Kamel Mennour, Daniel Buren created a pergola for Le Bristol that will be on view in the hotel’s garden through October, and the contemporary artist Hicham Berrada will illuminate the mirror screen in the Bar du Bristol with video installations.

Following that, the hotel will incorporate a series of sculptures in the garden by the Colombian artist Iván Argote, in association with the art exhibition Foire Internationale d’Art Contemporain and the Galerie Perrotin.

Integrating the scale of original artwork seen in the Beaumont or the Lanesborough is likely to exceed the budgets of most hoteliers, but those who can tell a story through such design considerations can enhance a guest’s experience. “Well-curated art collections in hotels, especially the most ambitious, help guests feel the identity of a place,” Mr. Toledano said. “They help these properties feel less standardized.”

A version of this article appears in print on September 4, 2016, on page TR2 of the New York edition with the headline: New Destination for Art: Upscale Hotels. Order Reprints| Today’s Paper|Subscribe

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