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How online booking has changed the travel agent landscape

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TravelPerk used Bureau of Labor Statistics data to analyze the decline in U.S. employment of travel agents over time.  
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Travel agent jobs have dipped sharply, dropping about 70% between 2000 and 2021, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The proliferation of online travel companies has made it easy for deal hunters, armchair travelers, and business travel planners to track information and find the best deals at their fingertips. But don’t count out travel agents yet—many are seeing a resurgence as travel recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.

TravelPerk used BLS data to analyze the decline in U.S. employment of travel agents over time, comparing employment to a timeline of online travel resources that have propelled online booking.

It’s important to note the differences between various booking option services available to customers. Travel agents help clients in planning their trips by arranging travel with suppliers. Examples of their suppliers include package tours, travel insurance, railways, cruise lines, car rentals, airlines, hotels, and so on. A travel agent’s clients include corporations, groups, or individuals, who often have very different travel needs and expectations. Business travelers, for example, are spending 50% less on travel than pre-pandemic, but as they steadily return, many have concerns including mitigating costs as in-person conferences restart and anticipating changing entry restrictions, especially for international travel. Leisure travelers may turn to agents to recommend lower-risk—but still scenic—vacation destinations.  

Travel agents can own their business or work for an agency owned by someone else. Instead of working with travelers on an itinerary from the ground up, a tour operator, in contrast, will arrange specific packages with suppliers such as airlines and hotels. They will then offer these packages to their customers. Booking sites, on the other hand, make it possible for travelers tailor-fit their travel arrangements and book them on their own, whether it’s just a short weekend jaunt or a month-long international business trip.

Travel is forecast to return closer to pre-pandemic levels in 2023—the U.S. Travel Association projects that next year leisure spending will return to 2019 levels and business travel will climb to 88% of 2019 spending. Read on to learn more about how these online booking sites have changed the travel agent landscape.

Line chart showing the decline in travel agent jobs since 2000, juxtaposed with a few big events in the online travel and booking space.

TravelPerk

Travel agent jobs experience a drastic decline

The internet has significantly impacted travel—fundamentally transforming the experience itself and upending the way the industry functions. As traditional operators struggled to adapt, new brands began to emerge. The industry’s digital disruption started in the ’90s and has continued steadily.

In 1994, Travelweb.com, the first comprehensive worldwide hotel properties catalog online, appeared. It would soon include a feature allowing customers to make online bookings. Then, in 1995, the Internet Travel Network claimed to oversee the first online airline reservation. ITN was the forerunner of GetThere, the reservation system for corporate travel.

In 2000, it sold to Sabre, which ran an automated airline seat reservation system. Also in 1995, Viator Systems—​​​​now known as Viator—started a travel technology business that helped provide bookings for excursions and destination tours online.

In 1996, a new player entered the online travel bookings world: Expedia. This online platform was Microsoft’s foray into online travel. This attempt has been incredibly successful, given its spot as one of the world’s top online travel agencies. At a time before e-commerece was widely adopted, Expedia gave consumers price comparisons for flights, car, and hotels—and the means to easily and safely book them on the site. The website’s first advertisement touted that everyday people could now use “the same reservation system” as travel agents.

That same year, partly inspired by the U.S. airline Southwest, Ryanair introduced its famously low-cost airline model, transforming Europe’s airline industry by allowing travelers to book directly on airline websites. Bypassing travel agents and online booking platforms cuts out service fees and commissions, and also allows users to pick any flight the airline offered—not just the ones selected by a third party.  

Other players that emerged in the ’90s include Lastminute.com, Travelocity, FareChase, and Priceline. FareChase used metasearch, working as a search engine that gathered fares from booking websites for hotels, airlines, and agencies. This platform laid the groundwork for other online booking solutions like Skyscanner, TravelSupermarket, Kayak, and Sidestep, which operated as one-stop-shops to find deals across different airline and company websites.

In that same decade, information about travel destinations became more accessible to consumers. In 1995, Jeff Greenwald became the first travel blogger when he published a travel article for Global Network Navigator. While travel blogging isn’t the same as making online bookings, it also makes a difference in the travel agent landscape. As information proliferates online about travel how-tos and destinations, more and more people are inspired to plan trips and make travel decisions—including booking and ticketing—rather than relying on the expertise of a travel agent.

Overhead shot of a woman using a smartphone next to an open suitcase

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The 2000s further accelerated changes in the travel industry

Tripadvisor was founded in 2000 and had a mission to help people make better travel decisions. The company organized hotel listings, making them more searchable, and ranked hotels based on travelers’ reviews. With this information at their fingertips, prospective travelers could book using the recommendations of other travelers instead of a travel agent.

After Sept. 11, it took nearly three years for airline travel to return to previous levels after a high of 65.4 million passengers in August 2001. As the travel industry dealt with the downturn in business and leisure trips, these online platforms became the saving grace for operators like hotels and airlines who needed to sell large amounts of available inventory. The travel industry’s reliance on these platforms remains to this day.

Another shift came in 2003 when IAC purchased Expedia. IAC’s constellation of websites, led by Barry Diller, attracts up to 2 billion monthly visits in 190 countries. In the first quarter of 2003, Expedia’s net income quadrupled to $26.9 million with a revenue of $198.8 million, signaling a further rift between travel agents and their customers, who are now planning their trips online.

Even though Priceline launched in 1997, it wasn’t until 2004 that its popularity surged with the acquisition of Active Hotels, a European online hotel reservation service. The following year, Priceline also bought Booking.com, cementing its share of the profitable European travel market. Also in 2004, the online home-sharing platform CouchSurfing was launched, offering travelers the opportunity to stay and experience their chosen destination with locals.

Not long after, the travel industry saw a startup poised to change the hotel industry fundamentally. AirBedAndBreakfast—now named Airbnb—was able to secure significant funding in 2009, after which they experienced growth so quickly that, by 2011, users had booked 1 million nights on the platform, which was then available in 89 countries.

During the global financial crisis of 2008, airline stocks plummeted 68%, and cruise lines, hotels, and resorts fell 74%. The following 10 years tested travel industry systems, and those that survived became more agile and accessible, especially for those in developing nations. Before the 2008 recession, China, India, and Latin America made up 21% of international travel. By 2016, that share had almost doubled to 41%.

People in an airport lobby crossing in front of a plane arrival and departure board

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COVID-19’s impact has been predictably significant

In 2021, the number of international arrivals was 1 billion less than before the pandemic. World Tourism Organization experts believe the travel industry will not fully recover until at least 2024. Worldwide spending on tourism and travel was less than half in 2020 than what it had been in 2019. Employment was also heavily impacted, with 62 million people working in the worldwide tourism and travel sector losing their jobs in 2020.

Despite the gloom and doom of the pandemic, it looks like some recovery might be on the horizon for travel agents. The BLS projects a 20% increase in demand for travel agents from 2021 to 2031, outstripping its 5% growth projection for all occupations.

Some have reported a marked recovery in business, even compared to pre-pandemic levels. A flash poll conducted by the American Society of Travel Advisors in early March 2021 revealed that in 2021, 76% of travel advisers saw an increase in customers versus pre-pandemic times, and 80% have fielded queries from those who had never used a travel adviser before.

Because of the constant changes in restrictions and rules, travelers began reaching out to travel agents who could help them plan their trips. More travelers have looked to travel agents who can help when business trips, cruises, and other plans are canceled or delayed due to health restrictions. As more agents become more adept at dealing with last-minute travel support assistance, their roles may expand beyond just planning for trips to also helping more with crisis management and recovery for travelers.  

As travel surges back to life, so may the fortunes of travel agents rise along with it.

 

This story originally appeared on TravelPerk and was produced and
distributed in partnership with Stacker Studio.

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WEF 2023: A call for more cooperation from businesses, governments, and society through digital transformation

A short roundup of digital transformation topics discussed at this year’s annual World Economic Forum.

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The World Economic Forum (WEF) is an annual event in Davos, Switzerland. Business, tech, government, and climate leaders speak and connect on strategies to improve the state of the world, specifically its industries, people, and environment.

Technology and digital transformation took center stage as leaders discussed exciting predictions for the new year. 

Curious about this year’s happenings? 

We’ve rounded up all the WEF topics where digital transformation was described as a top priority. 

Small businesses 

The pandemic made its mark on small businesses, but post-pandemic spending and inflation are proving just as destructive. The WEF concurs that a global recovery is only possible with small business recovery

The answer? Digitalization through:

  • Online payments: The e-commerce market is booming, estimated to jump over $2.1 trillion from 2022 to 2026. 
  • Global customer appeal: Digital financial platforms like Alipay+ help businesses access wider customer bases — a must after the latest local spending limitations from inflation. 

Luckily, 70% of businesses see the trend, leaning toward a higher-revenue (8X) future through digital transformation.

Manufacturing 

Manufacturing plants are faced with a double-edged sword in the face of exponentially innovative technology. They need to embrace it without sacrificing their workers or local investment. 

Adapting effectively means balancing the cost savings and scaling of macro supply chains with more local investment and empowering their workforces with new skills.

But the digital transformation necessary to balance all three comes from collaboration with:

  • Supply chain partners 
  • Competitors and industry players 
  • Government stakeholders 

The WEF also developed a tool to help manufacturing players monitor and apply supply chain disruptions from climate issues, new technology, and geopolitical tensions.

Technology investment to combat economic downturn 

Economic hardships drive companies to limit expenditures. A prominent WEF topic this year was digital transformation as a way to survive and soar over challenging business times.

How? 

For starters, SaaS and its automation, as well as ultra connectivity with wifi and 5G, limit redundancy and heighten collaboration and productivity. The trickle effect is a smoother customer experience and more revenue. 

It’s estimated that 60% of the GDP relied on digital technologies in 2022.

A strong sentiment surrounding this was a call for more public-private collaboration to make these technologies accessible to businesses and drive the economy, as well as government investment in connectivity infrastructure. 

Digital transformation and ESG

Businesses should strive to drive value in more than just economic matters. Just as information and data solutions have been prioritized, so have their ESG contributions. In the digital space, a large part of ESG is making the technology that so many businesses benefit from, accessible and equitable. That covers the S in ESG — as for the environmental pillar, IT capabilities are adapting tout suite. 

For example, edge computing supports animal observation and preservation in terms of data collection. 

The governance that brings everything together is becoming expected in new IT investments. Another ESG example here is Lenovo’s environmental assessments of their supply chains, including reducing their plants’ carbon footprint.

Emerging economies

Technology is slower to blossom in emerging economies, but global leaders concur on a need to invest in digitalization in developing countries. This launched the Digital FDI (foreign direct investment) to create “digital-friendly investment climates” — starting in Rwanda and Pakistan. 

At a most basic level, this includes investments to bring internet connectivity to poorer countries, a luxury that only 53% of the world has. The initiative will fund technology startups and innovators in Pakistan and Rwanda, propelled by investment and, arguably most importantly, public-private cooperation. 
Learn more about 2023 digital transformation trends.

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10 unexpected alternative investments in luxury goods

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Masterworks.io compiled a list of 10 unexpected luxury goods that are also used by investors as alternatives to traditional investments, according to sources such as Forbes and Harvard Business School.
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Take a note from financial advisers—don’t work for money, get your money working for you.

Investments in property are typical, as is purchasing hedge fund assets or even helping fund a startup venture that could become the next unicorn tech company. For many investors, once they’ve ticked off these boxes, they may be ready to look outside the box—or the stock market ticker, in this case—and consider some novel ways to diversify their portfolios and grow those three-comma-laden fortunes.

Masterworks.io compiled a list of 10 alternative investments in luxury goods, from different sources such as ForbesHarvard Business School, Investopedia, and Investor Junkie. For the well-off, having an enviable collection of jewelry, vintage cars, and limited-edition toys and fashion accessories may just come with the lifestyle; but for investors, these top-dollar purchases can also be a smart investment when chosen wisely. 

Close up of vintage wine bottles.

l i g h t p o e t // Shutterstock

Vintage wine

A good bottle of wine is synonymous with the finer things in life, but it could also be a valuable avenue to more riches. If an investor knows their grapes, they could end up with a cellar of tasty investments—one bottle recently sold at a fundraising auction for a record $1 million.

Wine is notoriously difficult to appreciate for the uninitiated, and if you’re more likely to notice the “nose” and “legs” on a person than a glass of wine, you may wonder how you’ll navigate the wine world.

There are wine exchanges where the well-heeled can follow and invest in certain wines, online auctions, and more exotic options like buying wine before it is even sold, something called buying “en primeur.”

A cellar full of top-quality vintages will undoubtedly draw admirers of exquisite taste, but remember, actually tasting these investments will drastically lower their value.

Leather Gucci brand handbag on display.

yu_photo // Shutterstock

Handbags

Designer handbags convey status and have the benefit, to those of a certain class, of being expensive. Sotheby’s reports the average auction prices for new Birkin bags in 2022 ranged from $12,000 to $23,000. If it’s hard to believe that one purse could be so expensive, consider that the smallest bags can be the most expensive bags.

For some, it may be arguable whether buying a fashionably expensive accessory is “an investment” or just an excuse to elicit the envy of other high-fashion devotees. In this case, though, that handbag may be worth the trouble. A report from Credit Suisse and Deloitte found that the financial return on Chanel bags was an 11.8% increase in 2021, and 38% for Birkin bags.

A display of Star Wars action figures: R2-D2, Hans Solo and C-3PO.

Krikkiat // Shutterstock

Mint-condition toys

Many people have childhood memories of being given that toy they’d been dreaming about, or the crushing disappointment of finding out they weren’t actually going to get it. Now that those children have gotten older, some finally have the resources to collect the toys they had dreamed about it as a child. Nostalgia pulls in many collectors as they finally get ahold of a toy they couldn’t quite get their hands on in younger years, or rediscover a beloved childhood toy that was long lost.

The money can be pretty substantial, too: An original Barbie sold for $27,450, an Obi-Wan Kenobi action figure from “Star Wars” was won at auction for $76,700, and a Super Mario Bros. NES cartridge sold for $660,000.

Be warned, though: Not all that brings joy is valuable. If you’re still holding on to that so-called “ultra-rare” Princess Diana Beanie Baby in hopes of funding a new private jet, you should know one recently sold for only $9.

Still life of flowers in a vase by Jan van Kessel held by Sotheby’s attendant.

Tristan Fewings // Getty Images for Sotheby’s

Fine art

The wealthy have stored value in fancy art for millennia, and recent years are no exception. Wealthy people spent an average of $242,000 on art and antiques in the first half of 2021, according to Forbes.

Also, if you believe elegance is about condensing value into a small space, fine art is a fantastic option. “When Will You Marry,” a 40-by-30-inch work painted by Paul Gauguin in 1892, sold for nearly $300 million, or about $250,000 per square inch.

This sort of fine art purchase isn’t just for aesthetics. If you ship that artwork to your home, you could be facing millions in taxes, so an investor will likely ship it to a tax-free storage site to avoid that tax burden and keep those dollars safely in their bank account.

White glove presentation of luxury watches.

sutsaiy // Shutterstock

Jewelry and watches

The arrival of the pandemic coincided with a spike in the value of vintage watches, according to GQ. New watches have pulled in serious modern-day dollars as well, like this watch from Jacob the Jeweler that lists for $620,000.

For those who sneer at the hoi polloi snatching up wrist candy, maybe rare jewels are more their speed. A pink diamond called the CTF Pink Star sold for over $71 million and a blue diamond sold for over $57 million.

Unlike wine or artwork, these are items you can actually use on a regular basis. If new money shouts and old money whispers, there’s no better way to broadcast your recent largesse than these sparkling acquisitions.

Cropped close up of a black Rolls Royce.

PHOTOCREO Michal Bednarek // Shutterstock

Classic cars

What if you could combine the graceful lines of fine art with the fun of toys? If that experiential portmanteau is what you seek, then look no further than classic cars.

Classic cars rev up the nostalgia and envy of others, and they can have serious value. A rare 1955 Mercedes 300 SLR sold for over $143 million in 2022 and a vintage red 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO sold for $48 million.

Leave it to the common folk to show off their fancy new cars on the internet, like this Pagani Roadster, which sells for a paltry $4 million. You know the journey to make all your Champagne wishes and caviar dreams really come true starts with the throaty purr of a classic engine.

A collection of vintage baseball cards.

Abigail McCann // Shutterstock

Trading cards

The company Verified Market Research says the sports card trading market was worth over $7.8 billion in 2021.

Investing in trading cards can be risky, as they don’t have the same intrinsic value of something like a car—which, even if valueless on the market, could still provide transportation—and so their values can fluctuate more. But you needn’t worry about such trivialities, as the stakes are small compared to other options: according to Yahoo, only two trading cards have ever sold for more than $6 million each.

Comic books on display at a retail store.

Eudaimonic Traveler // Shutterstock

Comic books

Even the moderately deep-pocketed can invest in comic books.

The record price for a comic book was a trifling $5.3 million in January 2022 for “Superman #1.” But the returns can be handsome. “Amazing Fantasy 15,” the comic book with the first appearance of Spider-man, sold in 2011 for $110,000 and sold 10 years later for $3.6 million, which is more than 31 times than the original investment.

Pair of Air Jordan sneakers with black background.

phil_berry r // Shutterstock

Sneakers

While children from earlier generations may have been enamored with Superman, the younger set shifted their idolatry from figures of fantasy to heroes on the parquet floors of basketball courts.

Perhaps, you think, instead of chasing collectibles deemed valuable in the past, you could look to where future interest may lie. And a growing category of collectibles is sneakers.

Michael Jordan, a fellow member of the three-comma club, not only became an international superstar, but also helped usher in today’s fascination with sneakers. So, it is fitting that the most expensive sneakers ever sold were his, a $615,000 pair from the first-ever Air Jordan line, released after his rookie season.

A digital display showing Bored Ape NFTs on $100 dollar bills.

mundissima // Shutterstock

Digital art, also known as non-fungible tokens or NFTs

Long gone are ideas of money being valuable because it is tied to a commodity like gold. Today we live in a world where money has value because someone says it does.

What better way to wrangle growth in your portfolio than by taking the concept of value to a further extreme: taking a digital file and giving it value because a record somewhere says you own it. Welcome to the world of NFTs, or non-fungible tokens.

While NFTs are tied with the cryptocurrency market, and 2022 has seen some rocky times in crypto, you can be sure that you’ll be joined by your fellow fiscally elite. According to Gadgets360, as of 2021, nearly 80% of all NFTs are owned by just a few investors.

This material is provided for educational purposes only. It is not investment advice and should not be the basis of an investment decision.

This story originally appeared on Masterworks.io and was produced and
distributed in partnership with Stacker Studio.

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IT spending is a “recession-proof” investment in 2023

Gartner forecasts a 2.4% increase in global IT spending.

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Companies in the US can’t afford to blow their budgets this year in the face of inflation. Just look at Salesforce, who axed nearly 10% of their workforce and ended office leases in an effort to reduce business costs by $3 – 5 billion

Tech giants like Tesla and Google have followed suit, especially for corporate and recruitment staff  — but not for IT spending

Over half of today’s digital leaders plan to spend more on IT in 2023 despite common predictions for tough financial times. 

But how much more?

Gartner comes through with the numbers, citing a 2.4% increase in overall global IT spending for 2023. This was great news for the SaaS industry especially, as software spending will jump a massive 9.3%. 

But this isn’t really news. 

We saw this coming when Google Workspace boasted an impressive 3 billion users at the end of 2021. Another indicator was the massive IT skills shortage that had companies scrambling to recruit developers, programmers, and engineers. 

With more software comes more implementation, strategy, and maintenance. This prompts a 5.5% increase in IT services spending for 2023. We’re talking qualified, experienced IT professionals from programmers and cloud architects to network engineers, information security experts, and analytics professionals. Digital leaders want to have a reliable team to keep the data (and revenue) flowing. 

On top of that, you can expect to see more and more dollars allocated for the latest automation and productivity tech, aka AI software and robots. Efficiency is the name of the game, and companies will maximize it with both skilled IT professionals and robots. 

Still, cloud infrastructure and data center systems will take precedence, with a 0.7% increase in spending this year. Companies need somewhere to sift through, store, and analyze all that data, with insights that 21% of leaders see as driving more revenue.  

Don’t get too excited, though — your annual laptop refresh might take a backseat as companies drop device spending by 5.5%. 

Bottom line? You’ll be on the receiving end of a pumped-up IT budget with the right apps, software, and IT skills. As Gartner Analytics VP John-David Lovelock reminds us? 

“IT spending remains recession-proof.”

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