How ICs Are Changing The Face Of Retail Travel

Bruce Parkinson, Open Jaw

Travel Institute President Diane Petras

The U.S.-based Travel Institute has released findings from its new study, The Changing Face of Travel Agents, which analyzes how agent roles and motivations have changed over the past decade and identifies key parameters that define successful travel agents. While there are no doubt variations north of the border, there are likely enough similarities in trends to make the study’s results of interest to Canadians.

Leading the changes are the explosive growth of the independent contractor demographic, the correlation between certification and success, and the positive career outlook among travel professionals, the Travel Institute says.

The results are based on responses of nearly 2,000 U.S. travel agents to an online survey, conducted in DEC 2017. The Travel Institute says a number of measures in the survey enable direct comparisons with its 2008 proprietary Travel Professional’s Survey, providing a longitudinal perspective on industry changes in the travel industry.

“What a difference a decade makes when it comes to this comprehensive look at the changing dynamics of our industry,” said Diane Petras, CTIE, President of the Travel Institute. Here’s a quick summary of the survey’s findings:

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% of ICs and 22% of employees working from home in 2017. 
  • Although all ICs are technically “business owners,” the majority (57%) identify themselves as travel agent “counsellor” 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:  

  • ICs tend to be much newer to the industry than employees, with 47% having worked less than three years in the travel business. At the other end of the spectrum, 46% of employees have more than 20 years’ experience in the industry compared to 18% of ICs.
  • ICs are much more likely to be part-timers who are pursuing a new career in travel with 36% working 20 hours per week or less compared to 8% of employees. At the other end of the time clock, 46% of employees work more than 40 hours, compared to 22% 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% of ICs receive any remuneration for the cost of professional education, compared with 46% of employees.

Look Who’s Certified

 Just how certified is the travel industry? The recent study was the first time The Travel Institute has measured this degree of professionalism and the results underscore its financial importance. Here are the numbers: 

  • More than one in three agents (38%) have earned travel agent certification vs. 62% 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.  
  • Broken down, 46% of employees are certified compared to 32% of ICs.
  • 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.

Bruce Parkinson

Bruce Parkinson Editor-in-Chief

An observer and analyst of the Canadian and international travel industries for over 25 years, Bruce uses the pre-dawn hours to prepare a daily news and information package to keep industry members up to date.




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