Travel agencies first started in the United Kingdom, originally catering for only very wealthy people. With the advent of aviation technology and the new-found accessibility of far-off and exotic places, the industry boomed into the multifaceted business it is today.
Cox & Kings was the first travel agency, having celebrated their 250th anniversary in 2008, according to their website. The bank provided travel services to their best clients after they opened in 1758. However, the first independent and sole travel agency was Thomas Cook, which opened in 1841, originally partnering with railway companies to offer tours and packages to clients.
Travel agents started targeting middle-class people after World War II when beach holiday packages became affordable for many families. The biggest travel industry association in the world, the American Society of Travel Agents opened as the American Steamship and Tourism Agent Associations in 1931 and has been one of the primary industry watchdogs ever since.
Travel agents sell flights, holidays and other travel services, such as luggage or health insurance. They buy the product from their suppliers at a discount, and sell it to the consumer at the advertised rate, making their profit from the difference. However, according to The Travel Insider website, most major carriers have stopped paying commissions, so many agencies charge the consumer a small amount per booking.
Travel agents offer convenience by doing all the research, price and date comparisons, booking and paperwork that the consumer would ordinarily need to do. They also provide expert advice on travelling, covering subjects such as visas, currencies, safety and recommended accommodation and airlines.
The ease of booking flights and package vacations over the Internet has put the travel agent industry under threat. However, as booking vacations this way can be time consuming and complicated, many people still choose travel agents to book trips for them.