Developments in travel and tourism likely to have impact

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:49

    WEST MILFORD-The travel industry has been undergoing lots of change in the past 10 years. The Internet has rendered the neighborhood travel agent nearly obsolete, while the after-effects of 9/11 have changed where and how many people choose to travel. Travel "consultants" are replacing travel agents, and the Internet allows individuals to develop their own itineraries, make reservations and purchase tickets. Cruise vacations are no longer considered a luxury affordable only for the very rich. Ticket prices for air travel are lower than 20 or 30 years ago, relatively speaking. Overseas travel by Americans is on the rise again, while foreigners' travel to the U.S. is still down about 20 percent from the high point in 2000. Cruise lines are now offering more choices n adventure trips, island beaches, scenic, domestic and foreign ports. Special interest tour cruises are available for diverse groups such as singles, seniors, golfers, gay and lesbian, and on and on. Cruises depart from New York City and New Jersey; some on a year round basis, and many are surprisingly affordable. Since deregulation of the airline industry, major carrier pricing has been extremely competitive. Where there had been only three seat prices on any given flight - first class, tourist and excursion - there are now daily price changes on available seating for most commercial flights resulting in confusion and skepticism (and sometimes savings) for ticket purchasers. If these "revolving" prices for seats are having any positive effect on the airlines, it's not enough to make them profitable. United Airlines reported a $1.1 billion first-quarter loss and at the same time is in federal bankruptcy court getting approval to terminate employee pension plans. This will save the airline approximately $645 million per year, at the expense of its retirees and employees. Other major carriers including US Airways and Delta are also close to bankruptcy, and are seeking government assistance and union givebacks. Passengers are having second thoughts about booking flights too far in advance, wondering if the airline will be in business when they're ready to travel. Lucille Hirleman, President of Berkshire Travel in Newfoundland, confirms Americans are again traveling overseas in increasing numbers. "The act of terrorism on 9/11 changed Americans' travel, but did not eliminate it. Domestic travel represented a greater percentage of overall travel beginning right after 9/11. Each year, however, more and more trips are international, and for the past two years, Italy has replaced England as the first choice for Americans." In 1995, the airlines began a process to eventually eliminate paying any commission on ticket sales to travel agencies. According to Hirleman, "this was a return to how it had been in the beginning, when there were no commissions paid. The effect, however, was to drive out those agents and agencies whose success was based solely on ticket sales n kind of a ‘survival of the fittest.'" The elimination of commissions for ticket sales, along with the growing utilization of the Internet has resulted in a declining number of travel agents and agencies. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there are now less than 118,000 agents in the U.S. with a continuing decline projected for the next several years. "Specialization and increased expertise are key to staying successful", per Hirleman, who is a certified travel consultant. "People are looking for great deals and need help in planning trips to get the most value for their travel budgets." Rosellen Monaco of Oak Ridge is a long time user of travel consultants. "I may use the computer to do some browsing, but for the overall convenience, the knowledge that Lucy is there to help in planning our trips, and the cost savings, I wouldn't do it myself." On the other hand, Christine Zuidema of Green Pond has not felt the need to work with a professional travel consultant. She stated, "I like the convenience of using the Internet, and have been able to purchase airline tickets without even having to make one single phone call to book a trip. I can check prices frequently, whenever I have a spare moment."