Sometimes when I tell people I am the director of a travel agent training program, their first question is “Do travel agent’s still exist?” Thankfully, there are fewer and fewer who think the travel consultant job was on its way to extinction, but there are still those who have the mistaken impression that the impersonal online travel websites have replaced travel agents.

For those of us in the travel industry, we know that the travel world offers substantially more opportunities for travel agents than ever before. In fact, the travel agents working with Travel Leaders Group are the foundation for the company’s $20 billion in annual sales, on par with many of the online sites. As an undeniably large group of more than 6,500 travel agencies, our company consists of a team of fantastic leaders, an amazing support staff, and most importantly over 40,000 travel agents offering travelers professional and personal service.

Today’s modern travel agent can be found in a number of ways. Today’s brick and mortar travel agencies, such as the individually owned Travel Leaders franchises are servicing clients from their neighborhood locations and may also have teams of agents selling travel from home. Independent travel agents can work with a brick and mortar travel agency or choose instead to affiliate with a host travel agency, such as Nexion. An independent agent is both an entrepreneur and a travel counselor, responsible for running their business and growing their clientele.

The travel agent has changed not only in how they work, but also in how they market themselves. Brick and mortar and virtual travel agencies alike are reaping the benefits of targeted marketing that includes direct mail, as well as pieces sent directly to the travelers’ computer or smart phone personalized based on their preferences and past history. Even more important is how travel agents are selling their knowledge, using online profiles that highlight their specific expertise while allowing consumers to rate their experience with them. Whether the agency is part of a franchise, a host agency or a marketing consortium such as, today’s travel agent can gain access to stronger supplier relationships and even more tools to better serve the travelers they’ve attracted to their agencies.

One final word about today’s travel agents – they are likely going to charge you a service fee or a professional fee for their services, however, the ultimate value and expertise they provide typically far outweighs any fee. Plus as today’s travelers expect their travel agency to be truly full-service, there are a full range of benefits you can receive by working with an agent, who has your back throughout your travels until you’ve safely returned home. Like most professional services, they are worth every penny.

Yes, Virginia, it sure looks like the travel agent is here to stay.