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JG Black Book And Harrison Group Discover An Evolution In Travel Agents' Roles

Tuesday, December 11, 2012
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The New York-based full-service sales, marketing, public relations and branding firm for the travel industry, recently partnered with the Harrison Group, a YouGov company, the renowned research firm behind American Express Publishing's The Survey of Affluence and Wealth in America, among other well-known reports, to explore travel industry trends.

The 2012 Survey of the American Luxury Travel Consultant focuses on travel professionals' knowledge, observations and contributions to the travel experience, while also focusing on travelers themselves and the critical factors influencing their decisions. The survey revealed the evolution of travel agents' roles, resulting in the rise of a new travel professional, the Personal Travel Ambassador, as well as the changing needs of the American consumer. The research found that travel consultants' ability to execute and manage the hassles and risks that are the reality of travel today has made them ambassadors for their clients, increasing demand for their services from travelers who know that their own abilities and those of online travel companies are not sufficient.

"The objective of this study was a desire to learn about greater trends in travel through the travel consultant's unique vantage point," said Jena Gardner, CEO of JG Black Book. "What we discovered was a significant transformation in their roles. Instead of representing destinations to their clients, they now serve as liaisons for their clients to the destinations. This evolution into Personal Travel Ambassadors presents important implications for the greater travel industry, suggesting the need for increased communication and strengthened relationships between destinations and travel professionals."

The Travel Business Is Improving
"As influential intermediaries between destinations and consumers, we found that travel consultants were very optimistic about their business," Dr. Jim Taylor, vice chairman of Harrison Group, a YouGov company, and project manager on this study.

The majority of travel consultants report that both consumer demand and their business have improved over the past 12 months, displaying an increasing need for this personal approach to booking travel. The study showed travelers booked an average of 4.5 leisure trips with travel consultants last year, spending more than $7,500 per leisure trip. The survey also found that 80% of travel consultants believe their role has become more important over the past two years and will become more important in the years to come.

Travel Consultant As Influencer And Risk Manager
"Instead of representing the amenities of the hotel, travel consultants offer a service that provides travel assurance. The smart traveler turns to the travel consultant for execution and personal guidance, adding incredible worth to the travel experience," said Jena Gardner.

The study demonstrates that travel consultants see themselves as being engaged in the process of helping manage risk for their clients, assuring them the highest quality experiences: 95% of consultants strongly agreed that their mission is taking the hassle out of booking travel. The travel consultants' knowledge and connections help their clients find the right destination and price and assist them in overcoming the inherent difficulties of the travel experience as they arise. This is one of the important factors driving business growth and it makes travel consultants very influential - 93% state their clients take their recommendations almost always or most of the time.

The Education Process
In an effort to best service clients, the study found that travel consultants rely on an array of sources for information including: personal experiences, industry relationships, sales representatives and publications, among others, with personal visits their preferred source for recommending destinations at 91%. In turn, travel consultants' use of gained experience and knowledge in recommending destinations is influenced by multiple factors including: their personal knowledge, the reputation and rank of the property or destination, the ability of the destination to fulfill their clients' needs and the destination's excellence as it pertains to both the client (staff service, etc.) and the consultant (prompt responses, etc.).

Why Do Consumers Go Where They Go?
"Consultants still recognize they have a responsibility to know the destination and manage relationships with properties, but their first responsibility is to understand what travelers are looking for in a trip to maximize their enjoyment," said Dr. Taylor.

A travelers' main objective in booking a trip is the pursuit of charming memories and to embrace happy relationships, whether as a multi-generational group, family, friends or a couple. Travel consultants believe that trips centered on creating memories that families or spouses can share for a lifetime are becoming more valued (81%), followed by vacations focused on adventure (60%) [i.e., safari, bungee jumping, deep sea diving, polar expeditions or space flight] and environmental exploration (56%) [i.e., visiting a rain forest, hiking or camping]. This focus on shared memories is reflected in the selection by travel consultants of multi-generational trips as being most valued (73%).

Methodology: In July 2012, an online study was conducted among 562 independent luxury travel consultants drawn from JG Black Book's U.S. travel consultant database. The study has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 to 5 percentage points.

About JG Black Book
JG Black Book is one of the nation's fastest growing consulting firms, offering an integrated portfolio of sales, marketing, public relations and branding services to clients in the travel and travel lifestyle sectors. The firm specializes in helping independent travel companies and destinations gain traction against larger, more well-known competitors, offering a one-stop resource for gaining exposure, building networks and increasing sales. JG Black Book's team of industry veterans, unique service model, and powerful connections have built the firm's reputation as a trusted advisor for over 120 of the world's most celebrated travel brands including Singita, Micato Safaris, Baglioni Hotels, and the country of Belize. For more information on JG Black Book, please visit www.jgblackbook.com or call 212-967-5895.

About Harrison Group
Harrison Group, a YouGov company, is a leading market research and strategy consulting firm headquartered in Waterbury, Connecticut. Along with expertise in travel, affluence and wealth, Harrison Group specializes in the youth, media, financial management, consumer products, forecasting, and interactive entertainment markets. The firm's cornerstone is providing sophisticated market strategy, market analytics, and survey research services. Harrison Group consists of a cohesive team of researchers, analysts, field experts, focus group facilitators, marketing experts, brand specialists and multivariate statisticians who specialize in the business of providing clear, definitive research results for many of the world's leading companies. For more information on the Harrison Group please visit www.harrisongroupinc.com or call 203-573-0400.

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