The Travel Institute: The Changing Face of Travel Agents

(Infographic by The Travel Institute)

The Travel Institute has released a new report on some big changes for travel agents over the past decade, as well as what makes a successful agent.

Among the most enlightening observations in the new report, The Changing Face of Travel Agents: The explosive growth of the independent contractor demographic, the correlation between certification and success, and the positive career outlook among travel professionals.

The results are based on responses of nearly 2,000 U.S. travel agents to an online survey, which was conducted in December 2017 by Schreiner Research Services, an independent market research organization. A number of measures in the survey enable direct comparisons with The Travel Institute’s 2008 proprietary Travel Professional’s Survey, providing a longitudinal perspective on changes in the travel industry, The Travel Institute said.

In a written statement President Diane Petras said that The Changing Face of Travel Agents zeroes in on the four “Cs” of an ever-changing agency community: composition, certification, contentment, and compensation. The survey results will be released in two parts, with career contentment and compensation findings revealed this summer.

Shifting Landscapes

There has been a significant change in several key indicators related to the makeup of the travel agent community over the past ten years:

  • Agents have shifted from working primarily as employees (71% in 2008) to working primarily as independent contractors or ICs (62% in 2017).
  • The workplace itself has also changed, with 92 percent of ICs and 22 percent of employees working from home in 2017.
  • Although all ICs are technically “business owners,” the majority (57%) identify themselves as travel agent “counselor” or “consultant” rather than “business owner.”

The DNA of an IC

A closer analysis into the background and aspirations of the current IC community reveal dramatic differences from the traditional travel agency employee, The Travel Institute said:

  • ICs tend to be much newer to the industry than employees, with 47 percent having worked less than three years in the travel business. At the other end of the spectrum, 46 percent of employees have more than 20 years’ experience in the industry compared to 18 percent of ICs.
  • ICs are much more likely to be part-timers who are pursuing a new career in travel with 36 percent working 20 hours per week or less compared to 8 percent of employees. At the other end of the time clock, 46 percent of employees work more than 40 hours, compared to 22 percent of ICs.
  • While both employees and ICs indicated the opportunity to travel as the top draw to the industry (76% and 75% respectively), among the other factors attracting ICs to the business were ability to work from home (69%), be my own boss (61%), flexible hours (58%), and financial opportunity (44%).
  • Four in five ICs belong to a host agency, looking to their host for support, training and education, access to suppliers, and higher commission levels.
  • ICs (69%) are significantly more dependent than employees (17%) on “commission only” for their compensation.
  • Just 10 percent of ICs receive any remuneration for the cost of professional education, compared with 46 percent of employees.


The Changing Face study was the first time The Travel Institute has measured the degree of certification in the industry. Here are the numbers:

  • More than one in three agents (38%) have earned travel agent certification vs. 62 percent who are not certified. (Certifications include CTA, CTC, CTIE, CCC, ACC, MCC, ECC, and GTP.)
  • More than one in four agents (27%) hold one or more Certified Travel Associate (CTA), Certified Travel Counselor (CTC), or Certified Travel Industry Executive (CTIE) accreditations from The Travel Institute.
  • Nearly one in five agents (18%) hold one or more CLIA certifications (CCC, ACC, MCC, or ECC).
  • Agents earning their CTA, CTC, or CTIE certification from The Travel Institute report significantly higher sales and income compared to those with destination or niche certification, or no certification. (Specific sales and income related to certification will be reported in part 2 of The Changing Face study this summer that focuses on compensation and career contentment.)
  • Broken down, 46 percent of employees are certified, compared to 32 percent of ICs.
  • Destination or niche training certificates from a vendor or other organization were held by 38 percent of agents, and another 21 percent were earned through The Travel Institute.
  • The majority of agents who are accredited by The Travel Institute and CLIA largely feel their certification(s) has a positive impact on their ability to attract and retain clients.

Part two of The Changing Face of Travel Agents, focused on career contentment and compensation, will be released this summer.


The Travel Institute contracted with Schreiner Research Services to commission research among U.S. retail travel agents. The online survey was conducted between November 30 – December 29, 2017, and distributed jointly by The Travel Institute (representing 30%) and a number of industry partners (representing 70%). A total of 1,808 travel agents completed the questionnaire.

Source: The Travel Institute

Related Stories

Stats: Air Travel Demand Up 9.5% in March

Stats: Hospitality, Small Businesses Add Jobs in April

Stats: Hawaii on the Rise for Summer Travel This Year

Stats: Travel Agent Unemployment Down 2 Percent in 2017