Travel retailers who specialize in luxury and specialty niche travel products continue to defy trends that indicate agents are in decline, says a report by the worldwide Virtuoso network.
Virtuoso has set a record for growth in the number of travel agents, called travel advisors in the Virtuoso parlance. This population reached 20,000 in 2018, a 14% increase over 2017. And that is up from 9,000 advisors ten years ago, said Betsy Goldberg, the public relations senior manager for Virtuoso.
“The erosion of travel agents is in the mass market travel sector, but the reverse is true in the luxury travel market,” said Goldberg. “There is so much information online and travellers need a professional to curate the selection and distill it down to more manageable levels… their time is too valuable for this work.”
The Virtuoso network counts over 1,000 agency locations in 50 countries, which were responsible for US$26.4 billion in sales for 2018. This new high-water mark represents an 11% increase in annual production for Virtuoso.
There are currently 2,260 advisors in Canada, an increase of 18% in 2018 over 2017. The volume of travel booked grew from $1.7 billion in 2017 to $2.1 billion in 2018, representing a growth of 26%.
The network is also seeing double-digit growth in bookings of key partner segments for 2019. These include tours, up by 11%; cruises up by 13%; and hotel bookings up by 26%.
Agency confidence is high heading into 2019, according to new polling data from agency attendees at the Virtuoso U.S. & Canada Forum in Austin, Texas at the end of January. Ninety-two percent of members are predicting sales growth for this year, and half of the respondents are forecasting a growth of over 10%.
A strong majority – 84% – of members also reported that the U.S. government shutdown did not affected consumer confidence in travel. And despite recent stock market fluctuations, 58% of advisors say consumer confidence has not been impacted.
For the full story, check out this week’s digital edition of Canadian Travel Press.