Did President Obama Forget Travel Agents Exist Again?

On an episode of ABC News’ ‘This Week’ President Obama made another round of comments disparaging the travel agent community. 

In an interview on the uneven recovery from the Great Recession, as an example of the disruptive effect of technology on the economy, the President once again used travel agents as an example of an industry that no longer exists. 


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“If you go to a lot of companies now, they’ve eliminated entire occupations,” President Obama said. “We don’t have travel agents.” The comments appear at around the four-minute mark in the video above. 

President Obama had faced criticism before for making inaccurate comments on the state of the travel agent industry. During a town hall meeting in August of 2011, the President had said that “… one of the challenges in terms of rebuilding our economy is businesses have gotten so efficient that - when was the last time somebody went to a bank teller instead of using the ATM, or used a travel agent instead of just going online? A lot of jobs that used to be out there requiring people now have become automated.”

These comments drew sharp criticism from the travel industry. The American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) released a letter highlighting the size and economic contributions of the travel agent industry, pointing out that it “is comprised of nearly 10,000 U.S.-based travel agency firms operating in 15,000 locations. We have an annual payroll of $6.3 billion. Most importantly, our businesses produce full-time employment for more than 120,000 U.S. taxpayers.”

Travel Leaders released similar criticism of the remarks. “Not so fast, Mr. President,” Travel Leaders Group CEO Barry Liben said at the time. “While many components of travel may have become commoditized, there’s no commoditizing the human touch. Our more than 30,000 travel agent experts are proud taxpaying professionals who offer what the Internet can never replicate: providing the human touch to the traveling public through exceptional hands-on care, all while saving them time and, yes, money. It’s no wonder our business is growing and thriving.”

The comments came in contrast to those from Former Secretary of State and Former U.S. Senator from New York Hillary Clinton, who delivered the keynote address at ASTA’s Global Convention just last week. 

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