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How Independent Contractors Are Changing the Face of the Retail Travel Industry

Recent survey results highlight a dramatic 10-year shift


FRAMINGHAM, MA, May 7, 2018 – The Travel Institute today released key findings from its new study, The Changing Face of Travel Agents, which analyzes how agent roles and motivations have changed over the past decade and also identifies key parameters that define successful travel agents.


Among the most enlightening observations: the explosive growth of the independent contractor demographic, the correlation between certification and success, and the positive career outlook among travel professionals.


The results are based on responses of nearly 2,000 U.S. travel agents to an online survey, which was conducted in December 2017 by Schreiner Research Services, an independent market research organization. A number of measures in the survey enable direct comparisons with The Travel Institute’s 2008 proprietary Travel Professional’s Survey providing a longitudinal perspective on changes in the travel industry.


According to President Diane Petras, CTIE, The Changing Face of Travel Agents zeroes in on the four “Cs” of an ever-changing agency community: composition, certification, contentment, and compensation. The survey results will be released in two parts with career contentment and compensation findings revealed this summer.


“What a difference a decade makes when it comes to this comprehensive look at the changing dynamics of our industry,” said Petras. “While we certainly wanted specific certification analytics measured, The Changing Face of Travel Agents is much bigger than that. These metrics are meant for our entire industry to analyze and filter through to what means the most to them.”


Shifting Landscapes

There has been a significant change in several key indicators related to the makeup of the travel agent community over the past ten years:

  • Agents have shifted from working primarily as employees (71% in 2008) to working primarily as independent contractors or ICs (62% in 2017).
  • The workplace itself has also changed with 92% of ICs and 22% of employees working from home in 2017.
  • Although all ICs are technically “business owners,” the majority (57%) identify themselves as travel agent “counselor” or “consultant” rather than “business owner.”


The DNA of an IC

A closer analysis into the background and aspirations of the current IC community reveal dramatic differences from the traditional travel agency employee:

  • ICs tend to be much newer to the industry than employees, with 47% having worked less than three years in the travel business. At the other end of the spectrum, 46% of employees have more than 20 years’ experience in the industry compared to 18% of ICs.
  • ICs are much more likely to be part-timers who are pursuing a new career in travel with 36% working 20 hours per week or less compared to 8% of employees. At the other end of the time clock, 46% of employees work more than 40 hours, compared to 22% of ICs.
  • While both employees and ICs indicated the opportunity to travel as the top draw to the industry (76% and 75% respectively), among the other factors attracting ICs to the business were ability to work from home (69%), be my own boss (61%), flexible hours (58%), and financial opportunity (44%).
  • Four in five ICs belong to a host agency, looking to their host for support, training and education, access to suppliers, and higher commission levels.
  • ICs (69%) are significantly more dependent than employees (17%) on “commission only” for their compensation.
  • Just 10% of ICs receive any remuneration for the cost of professional education, compared with 46% of employees.


Look Who’s Certified

And just how certified is the travel industry? The recent Changing Face study was the first time The Travel Institute has measured this degree of professionalism and the results underscore its financial importance as well as the organization’s reputation for setting the gold standard in travel agent education. Here are the numbers:

  • More than one in three agents (38%) have earned travel agent certification vs. 62% who are not certified. (Certifications include CTA, CTC, CTIE, CCC, ACC, MCC, ECC, and GTP.)
  • More than one in four agents (27%) hold one or more Certified Travel Associate (CTA), Certified Travel Counselor (CTC), or Certified Travel Industry Executive (CTIE) accreditations from The Travel Institute.
  • Nearly one in five agents (18%) hold one or more CLIA certifications (CCC, ACC, MCC, or ECC).
  • Agents earning their CTA, CTC, or CTIE certification from The Travel Institute report significantly higher sales and income compared to those with destination or niche certification, or no certification. (Specific sales and income related to certification will be reported in part 2 of The Changing Face study this summer that focuses on compensation and career contentment.)
  • Broken down, 46% of employees are certified compared to 32% of ICs.
  • Destination or niche training certificates from a vendor or other organization were held by 38% of agents and another 21% were earned through The Travel Institute.
  • The majority of agents who are accredited by The Travel Institute and CLIA largely feel their certification(s) has a positive impact on their ability to attract and retain clients.


Part two of The Changing Face of Travel Agents, focused on career contentment and compensation, will be released this summer.



The Travel Institute contracted with Schreiner Research Services to commission research among U.S. retail travel agents. The online survey was conducted between Nov. 30 – Dec. 29, 2017 and distributed jointly by The Travel Institute (representing 30%) and a number of industry partners (representing 70%). A total of 1,808 travel agents completed the questionnaire.



About The Travel Institute

Established in 1964, The Travel Institute serves as a community of knowledge and insight for all travel professionals. Through innovative education programs, professional certifications, and customized learning solutions, The Institute fulfills its non-profit mission to promote a gold standard of industry knowledge and excellence. For more information about The Travel Institute, visit or call (800) 542-4282.