American Express Travel, a leading global provider of consumer travel and related services, today released findings from a recent survey of its travel counselors, which queried the experts on travel trends for 2014. The survey of nearly 200 travel counselors sought to uncover the impact the Internet has had within the travel professional community as well as the latest trends in customer buying behavior. The survey shows not only an increase in customers booking and spending more with travel professionals, but that perceived challenges, such as the Internet, have in fact bolstered the industry. Internet Leads to Travel Counselor Efficiency, Consumers Overwhelmed Travel counselors, both new and tenured, are quick to note the impact the Internet has had on the industry. More than half of survey respondents (61%) strongly agree that the Internet has made their jobs more efficient, providing them with greater access to more content and information to serve customers. Consumer access to travel information and recommendations via the internet has also created a shift in the traveler-travel agent relationship, with 52% of travel counselors strongly agreeing that consumers are more knowledgeable than ever before, with many doing their own research. “Smart, savvy travel professionals are harnessing the power of the Internet to create extraordinary experiences for their customers,” says Tony Gonchar, vice president of the U.S. Representative Network at American Express Travel. “As technology advances, so do expectations. Customers are digital omnivores, consuming information across multiple devices, 24 hours-a-day, from hundreds – even thousands – of sources. Our travel counselors are able to help customers cut through the information overload to create the ultimate travel experience.” Specialization is Future of Industry As consumers seek more qualified information and insider recommendations, agents have had to embrace specialization. More than a third of respondents (38%) feel a deep knowledge of a particular destination or travel experience, such as family, culinary, or adventure travel, will be the most important tool in their arsenal as the travel industry evolves over the next five years. “More information does not necessarily lead to better decision-making,” says Gonchar. “Consumers are overwhelmed by the wealth of travel material and crave guidance and expertise. Our travel counselors give a level of personalization and expertise that customers can’t just search on the Internet.”
Booking Further Out and Farther AwayAs travel counselors continue to be valued for their ability to customize trips, they are noticing other positive signs within the industry, including the fact that 75% of their business is from long-term relationships and referrals. In addition, 43% of the survey’s respondents reported customers were booking travel further ahead in 2014 (vs. 2013) and 92% said their customers were planning to spend at least as much, if not more, on trips in 2014 (vs. 2013). With extra budget slated for vacations, travelers are planning to visit more exotic locales, with 54% of travel counselors seeing a growing preference for international destinations. Among the places with the highest demand: Southeast Asia, Rio de Janeiro, New Zealand, Croatia and Costa Rica. Arts and culture remain key drivers for vacation decisions according to 32% of respondents, followed by ultra-luxury travel (27%), culinary travel (21%) and adventure travel (16%). Cruising will also continue to make waves, with 42% reporting that more travelers are cruising in 2014 and an impressive 76% of respondents noting the continued trend towards river cruising. The results of this survey were revealed during the American Express Retail Travel Learning Forum and National Summit, Oct. 10-16, 2013. This invitation-only, six-day event was created to enhance the skill set and tools available to participating agents and illustrate the longstanding benefits of membership to the American Express Travel U.S. Representative Network. About American Express Travel American Express entered the travel agency business in 1915 and today operates one of the largest travel networks in the world. American Express Travel provides expert advice to customers when planning and booking their travel, as well as in-trip support. Whether booking online or connecting with its network of knowledgeable travel counselors, American Express Travel allows customers to get the most out of their travel experiences. Card Members also have access to exclusive travel offers, benefits and rewards they need to Take Membership Further SM. To book travel and to learn more about travel and related services, please visit amextravel.com. About American Express American Express is a global services company, providing customers with access to products, insights and experiences that enrich lives and build business success. Learn more at americanexpress.com and connect with us on facebook.com/americanexpress, foursquare.com/americanexpress, linkedin.com/companies/american-express, twitter.com/americanexpress, and youtube.com/americanexpress. Key links to products and services: charge and credit cards, business credit cards, travel services, gift cards, prepaid cards, merchant services, business travel, and corporate card.