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   Issue 11/12, Winter 2007/Spring 2008

Travel Agents/Tour Operators

      Overview               Online Resources


Historically booking travel was largely the purview of travel agents who had specialized systems and the connections to book the travel as well as accommodations. They also made the effort to know destinations so could make recommendations for their clients. While travel agents are still active and still provide value, much of what agents have done can be done by individuals sitting at their computers, and now travel related commerce accounts for a large percentage of ebusiness. According to PhoCusWright's "U.S. Online Travel Overview" Supplier websites will account for 66% of online bookings. In the airline sector, carrier websites account for about three-quarters of online ticket sales and by 2014 that share is supposed to increase. As for hotels and cruise lines supplier websites aren't quite as dominant but the do make up the bulk of books and that too is supposed to increase by 2014."1 In North America, Expedia, Travelocity, Orbitz, Hotwire and Priceline are among the largest firms offering online travel and all continue to steal market share from traditional agencies. In Europe EasyGroup, Online Travel Corporation (a subsidiary of, eBookers, and are the biggest online travel sites.

On-line services may have different goals than airlines or even travel agents. For airline tickets, many services such as Expedia reserve seats in bulk at a wholesale price and resell at a higher price, though still cheaper than buying from the airline. However, the airlines may look to their online ticket operations purely as a way to save money. That same dynamic to some extent applies to hotel reservations as well. Online sites may book the airline, the hotel, and the car for one price taking advantage of bulk pricing, thus directly impacting traditional travel agents. Some travel agents have successfully made the transition by being very specialized or marketing themselves more as consultants. Carlson Wagonlit Travel has established a sophisticated system for business travelers by incorporating an Internet-based system as well as maintaining locations all over the world.

BERA - Business & Economics Research Advisor - A Quarterly Guide to Business & Economics Topics

Issue 11/12: Winter 2007/Spring 2008
Updated January 2013

Guide to the Travel & Tourism Industry

Table of Contents

General Travel & Tourism
Travel Agents/Tour Operators
Types of Tourism

See America Poster showing two cowboys on horseback by stream near desert rock formation, ca 1936-1939.
Image (above):
See America Poster, ca. 1936-1939.
Poster for the United States Travel Bureau promoting tourism
Work Projects Administration Poster Collection
Prints and Photographs Division
Reproduction Number: LC-USZC2-831

Now with the advent of smart phones and specialized apps, travel related apps have arrived. This is particularly helpful for air travel and booking last minute accommodations.2

This is an industry covered by two specific SIC and NAICS Codes:

  • Travel Agencies SIC 4724 / NAICS 56151
    Establishments primarily engaged in furnishing travel information and acting as agents in arranging tours, transportation, rental of cars, and lodging for travelers. EXAMPLE: Tourist agencies for the arrangement of transportation, lodging, and Travel agencies.
  • Tour Operators SIC 4725 / NAICS 56152
    Establishments primarily engaged in arranging and assembling tours for sale through travel agents. Tour operators primarily engaged in selling their own tours directly to travelers are also included in this industry. EXAMPLES: Tour operation (travel) , Tours, except sight-seeing buses, boats, and airplanes , and Wholesale tour operator.

The US Economic Census of 2007 15,804 Travel Agencies (NAICS 56151), employing 121,694, and 2,993 Tour Operators (NAICS 56152), employing 33,125. This is very different from the numbers from the 1997 Economic Census which showed 29,332 Travel Agencies (SIC 4724), employing 183,178, and 3,501 Tour Operators (SIC 4725), employing 38,574.4

Selected Online Resources

      Associations               Trends


American Society of Travel Agents External Link

There is a Find a Travel Agent function (by zip code) on the home page. Most of the white papers and research are for members only but there are a few research publications like " ASTA Agency Sales & Revenue Trends" available to the public.

Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) External Link

In addition to statistics and other data on trends in the travel industry, the ABTA web site also includes links to Travel Agents' and Tour Operators' Benchmarking Surveys, a Pay and Benefits Benchmarking Survey, as well as a survey of Graduates in the Travel Industry who have undergraduate degrees in travel and tourism management and allied subjects.

Association of Canadian Travel Agents External Link

Association of Retail Travel Agents External Link

National Association of Commissioned Travel Agents External Link

Travel Agents of New Zealand External Link

United Federation of Travel Agents' Associations External Link

U.S. Travel Association External Link


emarketer External Link

Publishes reports like US Online Travel: The Threat of Commoditization and articles like "Online Travelers Bargain-Hunt on the Web" (June 20, 2007). Also offers a free "eMarketer Daily Newsletter."

FYI. PhoCusWright. External Link

Receive information covering corporate and leisure travel, tourism and hospitality marketplace via RSS feed. Limited free information is available from this source, but full reports are generally only available by purchase.

PhoCusWright External Link

PhoCusWright is a market research firm focusing on the travel/tourism Industry. They produce many reports including "Consumer Travel Trends Survey" which they have been conducting this survey since and Consumer Travel Trends Survey. The company also looks at travel buying behavior of frequent business travelers and the air-only online traveler. Most of the content is available only by purchase from the publisher but they do have some content freely available under the Research and Free Downloads area.

Travel Weekly External Link

This is the "national newspaper of the travel industry" and has been in publication for many years. The Library holds print titles as well as content in microfilm. However, most of the newer content is available on the publication website and in full-text databases.

 1. "Travel suppliers widen share of online sales." Travel Weekly, posted on November 19, 2012. External Link

 2. "Mobile travel solutions the talk of PhoCusWright conference. Travel Weekly, posted on November 20, 2012. External Link

 3. See Subject Series Establishment and Firm Size (national), specifically Table 1 "Sales Size of Establishments for the U.S." for the individual NAICS codes.

 4. Economic Census: Industry Snapshots
Travel Agencies (NAICS 56151)
Tour Operators (NAICS 561520)

Last Updated: 06/11/2014

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