Travel pros dispute Obama slam

Today, Travel Leaders Group, which represents nearly 30% of the entire North American agency marketplace, strongly rebutted President Barack Obama’s assertion that the travel agency community has been replaced by online players.

Travel Leaders Group CEO Barry Liben pointed to the $16.62 billion in annual sales volume in 2010 – more than Orbitz, Travelocity or Priceline – through its thousands of wholly-owned, franchised and affiliated agencies as proof that a significant percentage of the American traveling public continues to prefer the expertise and knowledge offered by real-live travel agents versus the Internet.

During a town hall meeting in Atkinson, Illinois, President Obama remarked this week that “One of the challenges in terms of rebuilding our economy is – businesses have gotten so efficient, that, when was the last time somebody went to a bank teller instead of using an ATM? Or used a travel agent instead of going online? A lot of jobs that used to require people now have become automated.”

“Not so fast, Mr. President,” chided Liben. “While many components of travel may have become commoditized, there’s no commoditizing the human touch. Our more than 30,000 travel agent experts are proud taxpaying professionals who offer what the Internet can never replicate: providing the human touch to the traveling public through exceptional hands-on care, all while saving them time and, yes, money. It’s no wonder our business is growing and thriving.”

"We strongly recommend that President Obama ask President Bill Clinton why he brought his personal travel agent to the stage of the Global Business Travel Association’s Convention just two years ago," added Travel Leaders Group Founder and Chairman Michael Batt. "He’d learn that President Clinton thanked and praised his talented agent from Tzell Travel, one of well over 100,000 hardworking, taxpaying Americans who proudly serve U.S. travelers.
What might surprise President Obama is that travel agents have evolved with the times and also have their own websites. Thanks to this evolution, American travelers now have the best of the Web along with a live travel agent they can trust."

Liben in turn rhetorically asked the President, “When was the last time somebody went to their online site instead of going to a travel agent when they were stranded in an airport because of a terrible weather or worse?  Mr. President, we’re thankful you don’t have to worry about such issues, but please understand that millions of savvy Americans prefer working with travel agents because they know they can rely on their assistance from the moment they first book their travel to the time they return home safely,” Liben explained.

“Add to that the knowledge and expertise travel agents provide through their counsel, coupled with the automation at travel agents’ fingertips — including websites of their own — and you have one of the most efficient and reliable means of accessing the best experience on earth.

“I am proud to stand before our President and say that more than 100,000 taxpaying travel agents are growing their businesses and delivering exceptional levels of service for the traveling public,” added Liben. “Businesses like ours are the heart and soul of America, and we are alive, well and contributing to the future economic growth of this country.”

For more information on Travel Leaders Group, visit