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How online booking has changed the travel agent landscape



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.


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,, 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, 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


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, 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


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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Is real estate actually a good investment?




Wealth Enhancement Group analyzed data from academic research, Standard and Poor's, and Nareit to compare real estate to stocks as investments.
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It’s well-documented that the surest, and often best, return on investments comes from playing the long game. But between stocks and real estate, which is the stronger bet?

To find out, financial planning firm Wealth Enhancement Group analyzed data from academic research, Standard and Poor’s, and Nareit to see how real estate compares to stocks as an investment.

Data going back to 1870 shows the well-established power of real estate as a powerful “long-run investment.” From 1870-2015, and after adjusting for inflation, real estate produced an average annual return of 7.05%, compared to 6.89% for equities. These findings, published in the 2019 issue of The Quarterly Journal of Economics, illustrate that stocks can deviate as much as 22% from their average, while housing only spreads out 10%. That’s because despite having comparable returns, stocks are inherently more volatile due to following the whims of the business cycle.

Real estate has inherent benefits, from unlocking cash flow and offering tax breaks to building equity and protecting investors from inflation. Investments here also help to diversify a portfolio, whether via physical properties or a real estate investment trust. Investors can track markets with standard resources that include the S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller Home Price Indices, which tracks residential real estate prices; the Nareit U.S. Real Estate Index, which gathers data on the real estate investment trust, or REIT, industry; and the S&P 500, which tracks the stocks of 500 of the largest companies in the U.S.

High interest rates and a competitive market dampened the flurry of real-estate investments made in the last four years. The rise in interest rates equates to a bigger borrowing cost for investors, which can spell big reductions in profit margins. That, combined with the risk of high vacancies, difficult tenants, or hidden structural problems, can make real estate investing a less attractive option—especially for first-time investors.

Keep reading to learn more about whether real estate is a good investment today and how it stacks up against the stock market.

A line chart showing returns in the S&P 500, REITs, and US housing. $100 invested in the S&P 500 at the start of 1990 would be worth around $2,700 today if you reinvested the dividends.

Wealth Enhancement Group

Stocks and housing have both done well

REITs can offer investors the stability of real estate returns without bidding wars or hefty down payments. A hybrid model of stocks and real estate, REITs allow the average person to invest in businesses that finance or own income-generating properties.

REITs delivered slightly better returns than the S&P 500 over the past 20-, 25-, and 50-year blocks. However, in the short term—the last 10 years, for instance—stocks outperformed REITs with a 12% return versus 9.5%, according to data compiled by The Motley Fool investor publication.

Whether a new normal is emerging that stocks will continue to offer higher REITs remains to be seen.

This year, the S&P 500 reached an all-time high, courtesy of investor enthusiasm in speculative tech such as artificial intelligence. However, just seven tech companies, dubbed “The Magnificent 7,” are responsible for an outsized amount of the S&P’s returns last year, creating worry that there may be a tech bubble.

While indexes keep a pulse on investment performance, they don’t always tell the whole story. The Case-Shiller Index only measures housing prices, for example, which leaves out rental income (profit) or maintenance costs (loss) when calculating the return on residential real estate investment.

A chart showing the annual returns to real estate, stocks, bonds, and bills in 16 major countries between 1870 and 2015.

Wealth Enhancement Group

Housing returns have been strong globally too

Like its American peers, the global real estate market in industrialized nations offers comparable returns to the international stock market.

Over the long term, returns on stocks in industrialized nations is 7%, including dividends, and 7.2% in global real estate, including rental income some investors receive from properties. Investing internationally may have more risk for American buyers, who are less likely to know local rules and regulations in foreign countries; however, global markets may offer opportunities for a higher return. For instance, Portugal’s real estate market is booming due to international visitors deciding to move there for a better quality of life. Portugal’s housing offers a 6.3% return in the long term, versus only 4.3% for its stock market.

For those with deep enough pockets to stay in, investing in housing will almost always bear out as long as the buyer has enough equity to manage unforeseen expenses and wait out vacancies or slumps in the market. Real estate promises to appreciate over the long term, offers an opportunity to collect rent for income, and allows investors to leverage borrowed capital to increase additional returns on investment.

Above all, though, the diversification of assets is the surest way to guarantee a strong return on investments. Spreading investments across different assets increases potential returns and mitigates risk.

Story editing by Nicole Caldwell. Copy editing by Paris Close. Photo selection by Lacy Kerrick.

This story originally appeared on Wealth Enhancement Group and was produced and
distributed in partnership with Stacker Studio.

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5 tech advancements sports venues have added since your last event




Uniqode compiled a list of technologies adopted by stadiums, arenas, and other major sporting venues in the past few years.
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In today’s digital climate, consuming sports has never been easier. Thanks to a plethora of streaming sites, alternative broadcasts, and advancements to home entertainment systems, the average fan has myriad options to watch and learn about their favorite teams at the touch of a button—all without ever having to leave the couch.

As a result, more and more sports venues have committed to improving and modernizing their facilities and fan experiences to compete with at-home audiences. Consider using mobile ticketing and parking passes, self-service kiosks for entry and ordering food, enhanced video boards, and jumbotrons that supply data analytics and high-definition replays. These innovations and upgrades are meant to draw more revenue and attract various sponsored partners. They also deliver unique and convenient in-person experiences that rival and outmatch traditional ways of enjoying games.

In Los Angeles, the Rams and Chargers’ SoFi Stadium has become the gold standard for football venues. It’s an architectural wonder with closer views, enhanced hospitality, and a translucent roof that cools the stadium’s internal temperature. 

The Texas Rangers’ ballpark, Globe Life Field, added field-level suites and lounges that resemble the look and feel of a sports bar. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Clippers are building a new arena (in addition to retail space, team offices, and an outdoor public plaza) that will seat 18,000 people and feature a fan section called The Wall, which will regulate attire and rooting interest.

It’s no longer acceptable to operate with old-school facilities and technology. Just look at Commanders Field (formerly FedExField), home of the Washington Commanders, which has faced criticism for its faulty barriers, leaking ceilings, poor food options, and long lines. Understandably, the team has been attempting to find a new location to build a state-of-the-art stadium and keep up with the demand for high-end amenities.

As more organizations audit their stadiums and arenas and keep up with technological innovations, Uniqode compiled a list of the latest tech advancements to coax—and keep—fans inside venues.

A person using the new walk out technology with a palm scan.

Jeff Gritchen/MediaNews Group/Orange County Register // Getty Images

Just Walk Out technology

After successfully installing its first cashierless grocery store in 2020, Amazon has continued to put its tracking technology into practice.

In 2023, the Seahawks incorporated Just Walk Out technology at various merchandise stores throughout Lumen Field, allowing fans to purchase items with a swipe and scan of their palms.

The radio-frequency identification system, which involves overhead cameras and computer vision, is a substitute for cashiers and eliminates long lines. 

RFID is now found in a handful of stadiums and arenas nationwide. These stores have already curbed checkout wait times, eliminated theft, and freed up workers to assist shoppers, according to Jon Jenkins, vice president of Just Walk Out tech.

A fan presenting a digital ticket at a kiosk.

Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox // Getty Images

Self-serve kiosks

In the same vein as Amazon’s self-scanning technology, self-serve kiosks have become a more integrated part of professional stadiums and arenas over the last few years. Some of these function as top-tier vending machines with canned beers and nonalcoholic drinks, shuffling lines quicker with virtual bartenders capable of spinning cocktails and mixed drinks.

The kiosks extend past beverages, as many college and professional venues have started using them to scan printed and digital tickets for more efficient entrance. It’s an effort to cut down lines and limit the more tedious aspects of in-person attendance, and it’s led various competing kiosk brands to provide their specific conveniences.

A family eating food in a stadium.

Kyle Rivas // Getty Images

Mobile ordering

Is there anything worse than navigating the concourse for food and alcohol and subsequently missing a go-ahead home run, clutch double play, or diving catch?

Within the last few years, more stadiums have eliminated those worries thanks to contactless mobile ordering. Fans can select food and drink items online on their phones to be delivered right to their seats. Nearly half of consumers said mobile app ordering would influence them to make more restaurant purchases, according to a 2020 study at PYMNTS. Another study showed a 22% increase in order size.

Many venues, including Yankee Stadium, have taken notice and now offer personalized deliveries in certain sections and established mobile order pick-up zones throughout the ballpark.

A fan walking past a QR code sign in a seating area.

Darrian Traynor // Getty Images

QR codes at seats

Need to remember a player’s name? Want to look up an opponent’s statistics at halftime? The team at Digital Seat Media has you covered.

Thus far, the company has added seat tags to more than 50 venues—including two NFL stadiums—with QR codes to promote more engagement with the product on the field.  After scanning the code, fans can access augmented reality features, look up rosters and scores, participate in sponsorship integrations, and answer fan polls on the mobile platform.

Analysts introducing AI technology at a sports conference.

Boris Streubel/Getty Images for DFL // Getty Images

Real-time data analytics and generative AI

As more venues look to reinvigorate the in-stadium experience, some have started using generative artificial intelligence and real-time data analytics.  Though not used widely yet, generative AI tools can create new content—text, imagery, or music—in conjunction with the game, providing updates, instant replays, and location-based dining suggestions

Last year, the Masters golf tournament even began including AI score projections in its mobile app. Real-time data is streamlining various stadium pitfalls, allowing operation managers to monitor staffing issues at busy food spots, adjust parking flows, and alert custodians to dirty or damaged bathrooms. The data also helps with security measures. Open up an app at a venue like the Honda Center in Anaheim, California, and report safety issues or belligerent fans to help better target disruptions and preserve an enjoyable experience.

Story editing by Nicole Caldwell. Copy editing by Paris Close. Photo selection by Lacy Kerrick.

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

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Import costs in these industries are keeping prices high




Machinery Partner used Bureau of Labor Statistics data to identify the soaring import costs that have translated to higher costs for Americans.  
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Inflation has cooled substantially, but Americans are still feeling the strain of sky-high prices. Consumers have to spend more on the same products, from the grocery store to the gas pump, than ever before.

Increased import costs are part of the problem. The U.S. is the largest goods importer in the world, bringing in $3.2 trillion in 2022. Import costs rose dramatically in 2021 and 2022 due to shipping constraints, world events, and other supply chain interruptions and cost pressures. At the June 2022 peak, import costs for all commodities were up 18.6% compared to January 2020.

While import costs have since fallen most months—helping to lower inflation—they remain nearly 12% above what they were in 2020. And beginning in 2024, import costs began to rise again, with January seeing the highest one-month increase since March 2022.

Machinery Partner used Bureau of Labor Statistics data to identify the soaring import costs that have translated to higher costs for Americans. Imports in a few industries have had an outsized impact, helping drive some of the overall spikes. Crop production, primary metal manufacturing, petroleum and coal product manufacturing, and oil and gas extraction were the worst offenders, with costs for each industry remaining at least 20% above 2020.

A multiline chart showing the change in import costs in four major product industries.

Machinery Partner

Imports related to crops, oil, and metals are keeping costs up

At the mid-2022 peak, import costs related to oil, gas, petroleum, and coal products had the highest increases, doubling their pre-pandemic costs. Oil prices went up globally as leaders anticipated supply disruptions from the conflict in Ukraine. The U.S. and other allied countries put limits on Russian revenues from oil sales through a price cap of oil, gas, and coal from the country, which was enacted in 2022.

This activity around the world’s second-largest oil producer pushed prices up throughout the market and intensified fluctuations in crude oil prices. Previously, the U.S. had imported hundreds of thousands of oil barrels from Russia per day, making the country a leading source of U.S. oil. In turn, the ban affected costs in the U.S. beyond what occurred in the global economy.

Americans felt this at the pump—with gasoline prices surging 60% for consumers year-over-year in June 2022 and remaining elevated to this day—but also throughout the economy, as the entire supply chain has dealt with higher gas, oil, and coal prices.

Some of the pressure from petroleum and oil has shifted to new industries: crop production and primary metal manufacturing. In each of these sectors, import costs in January were up about 40% from 2020.

Primary metal manufacturing experienced record import price growth in 2021, which continued into early 2022. The subsequent monthly and yearly drops have not been substantial enough to bring costs down to pre-COVID levels. Bureau of Labor Statistics reporting shows that increasing alumina and aluminum production prices had the most significant influence on primary metal import prices. Aluminum is widely used in consumer products, from cars and parts to canned beverages, which in turn inflated rapidly.

Aluminum was in short supply in early 2022 after high energy costs—i.e., gas—led to production cuts in Europe, driving aluminum prices to a 13-year high. The U.S. also imposes tariffs on aluminum imports, which were implemented in 2018 to cut down on overcapacity and promote U.S. aluminum production. Suppliers, including Canada, Mexico, and European Union countries, have exemptions, but the tax still adds cost to imports.

U.S. agricultural imports have expanded in recent decades, with most products coming from Canada, Mexico, the EU, and South America. Common agricultural imports include fruits and vegetables—especially those that are tropical or out-of-season—as well as nuts, coffee, spices, and beverages. Turmoil with Russia was again a large contributor to cost increases in agricultural trade, alongside extreme weather events and disruptions in the supply chain. Americans felt these price hikes directly at the grocery store.

The U.S. imports significantly more than it exports, and added costs to those imports are felt far beyond its ports. If import prices continue to rise, overall inflation would likely follow, pushing already high prices even further for American consumers.

Story editing by Shannon Luders-Manuel. Copy editing by Kristen Wegrzyn.

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

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