Travel industry adjusting to Internet [Telegraph-Herald (Dubuque, IA)]
(Telegraph-Herald (Dubuque, IA) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) AAA will close its Dubuque travel agency at 3337 Hillcrest Road on Feb. 3. The closure will directly affect five employees and force hundreds of local consumers to look elsewhere for their travel needs.
The company also plans to close agencies in Mason City and Sioux City this week, leaving another nine without work.
The move comes as travel agents try to adjust to technological changes that have altered their industry.
Gail Weinholzer, director of public affairs for AAA in Minnesota and Iowa, said the closings are a result of technologies drastically altering the way that customers plan and book vacations.
"More people are feeling comfortable with our website and telephone services," she said. "With decreased foot traffic into our brick-and-mortar locations, it is not financially wise to maintain as many offices."
Weinholzer said efforts to reduce AAA's brick-and-mortar footprint have been ongoing for "the past four or five years," but she doesn't see many more closures on the horizon.
"I think we are seeing the end of that trend (in our company)," she said.
AAA is not the only local travel agency that has encountered its fair share of challenges in recent years.
The number of full-time travel agents employed at U.S. travel agencies declined by about 50 percent from 2000 to 2012, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The bureau projects that total will fall by another 12 percent by 2022.
The bureau's "job outlook" report states that job prospects should be best for travel agents who specialize in specific destinations or particular types of travelers, such as groups with a special interest or corporate travelers.
Despite what some might see as a grim outlook, other local travel agents remain optimistic about their future.
Mary Jo Klinkhammer, who has owned the House of Travel in Dubuque since 2001, hasn't experienced the decline in revenue that has afflicted many agencies. In fact, House of Travel added an agent to its staff last year, she said.
But challenges continue. She said the recession forced many to cut back on their travel budgets, for example.
Over the past decade, though, no development has affected the travel industry quite like the emergence of the Internet.
"For the past eight to ten years, the Internet has definitely been our competitor," Klinkhammer said.
But she believes that agencies like House of Travel continue to play a vital role. With so many options available on the Web, customers often need assistance making sense of them all.
"People still need that guidance. They still want that expert advice," Klinkhammer said.
Klinkhammer's assessment echoes that of many industry experts. Those experts continue to believe there are certain services and roles that websites alone won't be able to fill.
"The Internet is great for an airline ticket," Klinkhammer said. "But I think when it comes to tours or going outside the U.S., people will often find out there's a visa they didn't know they needed or they just don't have the right documentation. They still need our help."
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