After more than a decade of decline, the humble travel agent is staging a comeback. Frustrated with the recent rash of sold-out hotels and airline seats, travelers are discovering that for all the hype, web sites like Hotels.com, Orbitz and Travelocity are losing some of their edge, especially when it comes to high-end locations. And customer displeasure is starting to show; growth in the once red-hot online travel business is cooling, up 20% last year after a 28% increase in 2004. Enter the travel agent, the most savvy of whom can use longtime connections to secure that "sold out" room or coveted aisle seat. Written off as dinosaurs not so long ago, agents are seeing a welcome bump in business, with the 2006 average weekly sales per agent location up 15% over the year before. High-end travel is turning up as well, with members of Virtuoso, a consortium of more than 300 luxury agencies, racking up $4.2 billion in sales last year, an 11% jump over 2005.
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