New breed of travel agents competing against internet

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SCARSDALE, N.Y. (WCAX) In the past, you could find travel agents only in storefronts in towns and cities all across America. Retail locations are becoming less common but that does not mean agencies have gone away. There's a new breed of travel agents who are competing against the internet.

Rob Karp creates dream vacations, one client at a time. He started his agency, Miles Ahead, when he was just 14-years-old.

"My friends would go to their parents and say Rob is starting a travel business. Half of them would laugh, half of them would say that's great," Karp said. He eventually grew his client list to 600. "I'm twenty today with 12 employees and we sold $7 million in travel last year."

The Cornell University student mostly works from home -- a developing trend in the industry.

The American Society of Travel Agents recently conducted a survey that found almost half of travel agents now work from home. Jocelyn Sontag is one of them. She retired from practicing law to raise her children and then launched a second career, making her own hours as a travel agent. "Everything's electronic right now. I have all the files on my computer. I don't need to be sitting at a desk, all day long," Sontag said.

These days, agents are becoming more specialized, sometimes focusing on specific types of vacations like cruises for cat lovers, beer themed river cruises and tours, or nude travel. Karp says agents help cut through the online clutter. "If you treat time like money, we're your asset managers, and we're really helping you get the most out of your leisure time," she said.

Recent surveys estimate most consumers arranging a trip on their own view nine sites before booking.

Some travel agents charge either a flat fee or percentage of the total cost, though others don't charge anything. Those that do say the extra money is worth it because of upgrades and special treatment they can offer clients.