Travel agents meet in Vegas to discuss cloudy future
LAS VEGAS — Travel agents accustomed to talking about sunny skies and sandy beaches are gathering this weekend in Las Vegas with their industry facing a cloudy future.
Recent changes in airline commission policies, growing competition from Internet travel sites, the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and a poor U.S. economy have dulled the travel industry’s luster over the past few years, industry officials said.
West Coast agents have also been hurt by travelers’ fears about SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome.
“I can’t think of another industry that’s has had to deal with so many problems in such a short time,” said M.J. Smith, whose TravelAge West magazine is hosting a trade show at the Las Vegas Convention Center through Sunday. Nearly 900 travel agents and suppliers are expected to attend.
Nationwide, the number of accredited travel agency locations and departments dropped from 32,551 in April 2002 to 27,945 in April 2003, according to Airlines Reporting Corp., an Arlington, Va.-based trade association.
ARC members’ monthly sales totals were also down, falling from $6.2 billion in April 2001 to about $4.5 billion this April.
“Airlines used to pay us 10 percent of a ticket’s base fare,” said Donna Steele, of Green Valley Travel in Las Vegas. “Later it dropped to 8 percent, then 5 percent, and now they pay nothing, with the exception of Southwest, which pays us 5 percent.”
This year’s convention schedule includes seminars on new sales techniques.
Smith said many agencies have consolidated, and small-company agents are focusing on personal service and specializing in certain destinations to survive.