The landscape has certainly changed in the Canadian travel industry with the phenomenal growth of the home-based, independent travel professional supported by host agencies. But what is really interesting is to look at what those agents are selling today, as compared with a decade ago.
It might be easier to list what they are not selling – incentive travel, corporate travel or ethnic air – but there are definitely some exceptions even within those categories, and some very successful ones too.
Home-based agents are branching out and specializing in all sorts of areas. In the past, about 75% of what Canadian home-based agents sold was traditional ITC air-and-hotel sun package holidays – the kind of vacations sold by Transat Holidays, ACV, Sunquest, WestJet, Sunwing and others.
There were reasons supporting that trend, some of which still apply today, namely 1) marketing money was available to support home-based agents in promoting their products; 2) ITC is easy and quick to sell; and 3) ITC is a fit with wedding groups.
However, things are changing and today, ITC packages would represent only about 50% of home based agents’ sales – and 50% of those sales are in fact group ITC sales. One thing is clear, home-based agents are becoming very successful at focusing on groups.
And it is not just ITC groups and wedding groups – today, many of the groups are on river cruises, ocean cruises and coach tours. So it is safe to say that groups are now an important part of home-based agents’ growth.
Another interesting fact is that independent FIT travel is also a big component of this type of agent’s sales. And this makes sense. Independent travel professionals are NOT an OTA, rather they are often experienced agents who know how to put together a custom itinerary for their clients. And FIT components can be added on to cruise and river cruise holidays as pre or post stays – or to other types of vacations.
Clients today are realizing that they can save a lot of time researching if they involve a travel agent who can do all the work for them. Home-based agents are carving out a reputation for attentive service and offering a wide range of products.