How and Where Travel Agents Book Travel | TravelResearchOnline

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How and Where Travel Agents Book Travel

ASTA has been a reliable source of research on the travel agency industry for many decades. We collect, collate and analyze data that is not available anywhere else on agency operations from agency business models to revenue sources. Our data can be used to pinpoint agency trends, compare and contrast agency operations, and develop marketing tactics.

Part of the American Society of Travel Agents’ (ASTA) wide-ranging benchmark reporting program, the recent 2017 ASTA travel agent travel booking survey provides some trends and information regarding the U.S. travel agents’ use of resources to book travel by various segments through a fraction of ASTA agency membership that participates in a survey research panel. The hard-to-obtain information is valuable especially during the times that the GDS’s continue to face fierce competition from various channels and sources of travel bookings that can be done outside the traditional GDS channel.

Top Booking Channels for Air

According to ASTA’s 2017 travel booking survey, each of the owners and managers of those ASTA member agencies indicated the top booking channels that they use for air bookings in 2017 are through tour operators (54%), consolidators (48%), the big three GDS’s (44%) and airlines’ websites/booking portals for travel agents (44%). Note that 70% of this particular survey’s respondents skew toward leisure-focused agencies and independent agents; therefore, overall responses would lean toward more leisure travel unless otherwise noted in segment breakdowns.

Needless to say, for corporate-focused travel agencies GDS is the primary air booking source (100%), followed by airline websites/booking portals (71%), calling the airlines (29%) and contacting consolidators (29%).

For leisure-focused agencies, tour operators (60%), consolidators (48%) and the big three GDS’s (45%) are the top booking channels, compared to independent agents’ primary use of consolidators (55%), airline websites/booking portals (48%) and tour operators (38%).

What’s worth mentioning is that independent agents also use third-party systems such as VacationAccess (VAX) (35%), consortia/host agency system (24%) and GDS’s (21%).

Top Booking Channels for Hotels

As with booking air travel, corporate-focused agencies also book the majority of hotels via GDS’s (86%), followed by hotel websites/booking portals (57%), calling hotels (43%) and even through online travel agencies (OTAs) (43%).

Leisure-focused agencies tend to use tour operators (58%), hotel websites/booking portals (46%) and GDS’s (41%), compared to independent agents’ use of hotel websites/booking portals (72%) as the primary booking source, followed by third-party system (55%) and tour operators (38%).

Additional Trends for Travel Booking Sources

Although GDS continues to be a predominant booking source for corporate-focused travel agencies (especially for air, hotels and cars bookings), leisure-focused agencies and independent agents indicated in the survey that a trend of relying less on the GDS’s in the future due to the difficulty to train new agents and costly support. Therefore, a gradual shift toward suppliers’ travel agent booking portals/websites and third party systems appears to be gaining some momentum for some travel agents in the industry.

Take a look at what we have to offer, which ranges from labor issues to GDS usage to financial benchmarking, at ASTA.org/ResearchReports. And don’t forget that ASTA membership includes preferential pricing for these reports, and in some cases complimentary access. Support your national trade association and join ASTA today!


Kevin brings to ASTA over 20 years of professional experience with over 15 years in the travel and tourism industry, including at the U.S. Travel Association and Choice Hotels International, where he frequently shared research insights and information at conferences and seminars with his expertise in managing quantitative and qualitative research studies, projects and programs.

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