The face of travel changed in 1996 when online travel giants such as Travelocity unveiled dozens of options and convenience for travelers. Roughly 560 million of today's 2 billion airline passengers around the world now use the Internet to purchase tickets, according to technology firm SITA Information Networking Computing. In the United States, transactions on the Internet will account for more than half of all travel bookings in 2007, according to a report from PhoCus Wright Inc., an independent travel research firm.

Travel agencies have some stiff competition, especially when it comes to corporate travel. GetThere, an online corporate travel reservation technology, announced 10 million online bookings, accounting for more than $8 billion in combined travel bookings for 2006. GetThere estimates the system collectively saved companies more than $600 million in airfare in 2006.

Despite the competition, travel agencies are holding their own by embracing online technologies. According to the American Society for Travel Agents, 98 percent of ASTA agencies subscribe to a consumer online service or an Internet access provider to help them better serve their clients. Before the boom in online booking, agents would simply take orders over the phone, said Mary Peters, vice president of ASTA. Technology is a positive development because it has forced those in the industry to be more interactive, Peters said.

“The travel industry has adapted, I think, above average to any other industry in using the knowledge the clients have before them, because it is something to talk about, it is not one-sided anymore,” Peters said. “Now we are a true travel professional, we are doing what we set out to do many, many years ago, and that is to be travel professionals.”

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