Fifty-eight percent of the home-based agents polled in the 2008 year-end survey taken by the Bradenton, FL-based Outside Sales Support Network (OSSN) said they are optimistic that their businesses will grow in 2009. In addition, 69 percent said their revenues increased in 2008, despite the souring U.S. economy.
"OSSN agents have decided not to accept the 'gloom and doom' verdict they're hearing in the news every day about the economy," OSSN President and Founder Gary M. Fee said. "Instead, they're ready this year to dig in, grow their client bases, and do what's necessary not only to survive, but thrive, in tough times."
Fee said that he expects growth in the ranks of home-based agents— both part and full time. He also anticipates growth in OSSN membership, now at 7,800 and organized into four regions and 77 chapters. “The home based channel is strong and selling effectively with a core of experienced, well trained agents,” he said.
Those results are the latest highlights from an expansive online survey that OSSN conducts annually among its home-based travel agent members. The 2008 year-end survey was conducted last month.
The survey also found that, within the past five years, 41 percent of the responding agents had changed their travel niche or specialty and 26 percent switched from the host agency model in favor of securing a booking ID number and handling their own reservations.
"As more suppliers worry this year about maintaining their sales levels, home-based agents have grown into an extremely professional, dependable partner," Fee notes. "Home-based sellers of travel will be a steady rock for many travel vendors this year who find other distribution channels not as helpful for preserving yields and overall revenues."
The results offer an insight into current industry issues, Fee believes. Fifty-eight percent of the agents said terrorism has not stopped their clients from traveling internationally. Almost 55 percent said declining commission levels have affected their desire to sell cruises. And, while 61 percent took part in at least one virtual travel trade show in 2008, only 20 percent found the virtual event beneficial.
Noteworthy results of the survey that drew just over 1,000 responses include: only 27 percent have their own credit card merchant account while 67 percent do not; a majority book air via an airline website (30 percent) and 30 percent use a consolidator; over 80 percent said they planned on attending a travel industry trade show.
A significant number said they needed help with their websites, with 26 percent reporting getting leads from their sites and 11 percent saying they close sales from their sites. A reason for optimism is the majority (65 percent) who have a database to reach repeat clients. Over 46 percent said they will increase advertising in 2009.