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Remember when travel agencies needed customer parking?



Richard Turen

This was an opportunity we had to consider carefully. Should we move our office in Naperville, Ill., from a strip mall to a well-positioned storefront that had just become available along busy Main Street?

The signage could be seen by everyone; with a river running through the heart of the city, it was, and is, a magnificent town for strolling. With our new office location, we could become an integral part of the fabric of what was soon to become Chicago’s largest suburb. And there, in the center of things, near a fine men’s clothing shop and an upscale taqueria, would be our agency. What an opportunity. 

The year was 1992, and after due consideration, we decided to pass. Virtually all our clients would, we reasoned, be driving to our office, and we anticipated they might have a problem finding parking. And in the Midwest winter, how far away would you be willing to park from your travel agent’s front door?

Flash-forward to 2018, when Travel Weekly’s Jamie Biesiada wrote an article headlined, “More travel agents are now ICs than work as full-time employees.”

This came as a bit of a shock to some in our industry, but it was based on what the Travel Institute’s president described as “a dramatic increase in the number of independent contractor agents in the past decade.”

The Institute had just issued a study that revealed that 62% of respondents identified themselves as contractors. Just 10 years earlier, that number was 29%.

There was no longer an Ask Mr. Foster just down the street to answer your travel questions. In fact, the idea of driving and parking to see a travel consultant by appointment was no longer seen as normal behavior. Why would you drive to visit a dinosaur sitting behind a desk?

Our profession has changed, but the trend was clear when Biesiada wrote about it in 2018. In the Travel Institute’s industry report last year, it said that 71% of travel agents now work as independent contractors — that is, they work for themselves.

The research showed some reasons for the growth in ICs. There has been a seismic increase in the number of workers in our field who see in travel a creature born of the thriving gig economy that provides flexibility and independence.

Hidden in the Travel Institute’s latest report is an interesting stat showing that 44% of today’s crop of travel agents say that our industry represents a career change. We no longer need to be ashamed of who we are and what we do for a living. What we do for a living now produces jealousy at cocktail parties and envy from friends we meet at the gym.

For me, this trend is a bit personal.

My father was a Manhattan trial lawyer. After I joined the travel industry, he would introduce me to friends by commenting about how foolish his son was in passing up the inheritance of a thriving law career. How shocked Dad would be if he knew that his income never reached the level that many have been blessed to reach in our profession.

Not long ago, I was having dinner with some well-known industry owners, and the conversation drifted to a handful of ICs who were now earning seven-figure incomes.

And none of their clients need to be concerned about finding adequate parking.

Senior contributing editor Richard Bruce Turen owns the luxury vacation-planning firm Churchill & Turen. He and his wife, Angela, have been named Virtuoso’s Top-Producing Worldwide Consultants four times. He can be reached at

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