ASTA: How Independent Contractors and Employees Differ

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The 2019 How America Travels study from the American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA) has some interesting insights on the differences between independent travel advisors and those employed by an agency. 

According to the report, there’s almost an even split between the two: 52 percent of those surveyed were independent travel advisors, while 48 percent worked at an agency. On the whole, independent advisors tend to be less experienced. Seventy-three percent of advisors with 20 years of experience or less are much more likely to work independently compared to those at an agency (73 percent versus 27 percent). Conversely, 70 percent of travel advisors with more than 20 years of experience are much more likely to work at an agency than to be independent (70 percent versus 30 percent). 

Geography plays a role as well. Independent travel advisors are more likely to be located in the South compared to those employed at an agency (41 percent versus 21 percent) and less likely to be located in the Midwest (17 percent versus 27 percent). 

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ASTA Independent Agent Sales Chart

In terms of sales, half (50 percent) of those earning less than $500,000 in estimated annual gross sales are independent advisors, as compared to 9 percent of those at an agency. These proportions begin to switch as one moves further up the income scale, with advisors employed at an agency surpassing independents at the $1 million to less than $5 million bracket (34 percent versus 13 percent). At the top tier – estimated gross annual sales of $25 million or more – 20 percent are employed at an agency, and only 4 percent are independent. Altogether, 23 percent of travel advisors (independent and agency) are in the “$1 million club,” earning $1 million or more in estimated annual gross sales. 

Independent advisors also receive more of their annual sales from cruises than their counterparts (37.3 percent versus 29.3 percent). Cruise is the top source overall, accounting for 33.6 percent of sales for all respondents. Tour packages and all-inclusive resorts each represent another 14 percent of sales. 

Finally, Independent travel advisors report a higher proportion of leisure sales than those employed at an agency. 76 percent of all travel advisors report that 75 percent or more of their business is leisure-focused, but that rises to 86 percent of independent travel advisors, versus 65 percent of those at an agency. 

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