The majority of Advantage agents questioned in a State of the Nation survey just before XL Leisure Group’s collapse felt optimistic about the next 12 months.

In total, 72% of 300 leisure and business agent respondents to the survey, conducted by Travel Weekly on behalf of the Advantage consortium, were either a little or very optimistic about the next year.

This is despite concerns about direct online bookings, the economic downturn, price discounting and rising business overheads.

Advantage sales and marketing director Colin O’Neill admitted he was surprised by the level of optimism but recognised this may have shifted in light of XL’s failure.

“There are clearly challenges but this is definitive data,” he said.

The state of the economy was considered the most important factor to impact the industry in the next three to five years.

And in a significant change to the trade’s view of the internet, the majority of agents no longer saw the web as a threat. In total, 67% saw the internet as an opportunity, while 25% saw it as a threat.

O’Neill added: “Agents seem to be taking a mature view previously the net was seen as taking away their bread and butter business. As far as our members are concerned, they all have some web presence – few have a shop as their single focus.”

Other highlights of the survey include 64% of respondents believe there is a skills shortage in the industry. Skills deemed in short supply included selling (13%), customer services (12%), IT skills (12%) and knowledge (11%).

Six out of 10 respondents (61%) would consider a new career outside of travel.

When asked how the government could support the trade, 39% favoured a decrease in taxes and 21% said better training. “What the people are saying is that the government needs to look at how it can support the industry, rather than tax it,” said O’Neill.