Since the early days of the pandemic, half-full members of the leisure travel agency community have argued that, as crushing as the pandemic has been for businesses, it may create more incentive to share their journey due to the complex new regulatory landscape for travel.
Now, data compiled by the ARC suggests that this scenario is becoming a reality.
Every week since the one ending Feb. 13, airfare transactions recorded by U.S. leisure travel agencies have exceeded the number of OTA transactions when considered compared to 2019.
For the week ending April 3, for example, leisure agencies, tour operators and cruise lines recorded just 7% fewer transactions than during the same week in 2019, while OTAs recorded 18, 1% less transactions.
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The number of airline ticket transactions made by travel management companies (TMCs) fell 33.2% from 2019, lagging the other two sectors and reflecting the slow recovery in travel. business.
The relative success of traditional leisure agencies versus OTAs is new. In the first 23 months of the pandemic, it was OTAs that grew in popularity.
ARC data shows that leisure stores completed 33.7% fewer airline ticket transactions in the year to April 3 compared to the 52-week period to early April 2019, while OTAs saw only 20.4% fewer transactions.
But leisure agencies began gradually closing that gap in October, says Chuck Thackston, managing director of data science at ARC, before overtaking OTAs in February.
“Travelers are turning to travel agencies a little more now than they did in 2019,” Thackston said. “Due to restrictions and the potential need to alter travel, there has been an increased demand for travel agents, frankly.”
Thackston also says that due to the recent surge in vacation travel demand, some travel buyers are finding their destination of choice booked. As a result, they turn to travel advisors for insight into alternatives.
Agencies are also noticing the trend. At Raleigh, North Carolina-based Travel Experts, No. 30 on Travel Weekly’s 2021 Power List, ARC sales in the first quarter of 2022 were 10% higher than 2019, according to Heather McIntyre, chief technology and finance.
“Demand has steadily increased each week, and overall the gap created by the pandemic has been filled,” McIntyre said. “However, surveying our ICs who do the bulk of our corporate business, they are still on the decline, indicating that the recent increase in ticketing is coming from leisure customers.”
GDS airline sales are also up at Travel Planners International, No. 32 on the Power List, according to Jenn Lee, vice president of industry engagement and support. In 2019, the host agency sold $20 million worth of flights and is already surpassing that figure in 2022. That also doesn’t include flights sold by GDS-independent Travel Planners agents, Lee says, as under ‘a package.
Good news in business
The ARC data also shows another notable trend, this time across the entire travel agency channel, including OTAs and TMCs.
During the first two years of the pandemic, the pace of recovery in the dollar value of U.S. travel agency sales matched the pace of recovery in terms of the gross number of tickets sold. But for each of the three weeks culminating in the week of April 3, that situation had reversed.
In the week ending April 3, for example, the value of airline tickets sold by U.S. travel agencies was 15.3% lower than the same week in 2019, while the number of ticket transactions was 19.1% behind 2019.
This is a significant difference from the 52-week average, in which the value of tickets sold was 47.1% compared to the beginning of April 2019, while the number of ticket transactions was less than 34. 8%.
Rising ticket prices, coupled with increased booking of complex itineraries, such as trips to Europe, account for the reversal, Thackston says.
* This story originally appeared on Travel Weekly.