Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Travel agents staging a comeback

WHEN SHE WAS PLANNING her birthday trip to New York City, Caroline Koons Forrest started where most of us do: online. She checked everything from to the Four Seasons' site. No luck. Everything was booked solid, outrageously priced or completely unfamiliar to her (the Days Hotel, anyone?). So the West Palm Beach architectural designer did something she hadn't done in ages: switched off her computer and called a local travel agent. Minutes later Stacy Small of Elite Travel International phoned back with a room at her first-choice hotel, the Four Seasons, at half the $1,600 price tag for a suite Forrest had spotted on the web. The icing on the cake? An actual birthday cake, which awaited Forrest and her husband when they entered their room.

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, 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.

Read more by clicking the above link from Smart