US travel agents have reacted angrily to suggestions from President Barack Obama that they are obsolete.

Obama was quoted last week as saying: “When was the last time somebody went to a bank teller instead of using an ATM, or used a travel agent instead of just going online? A lot of jobs out that used to be out there requiring people now have become automated.”

The President’s remarks provoked a strong reaction from the American Society of Travel Agents, which pointed out that agents account for more than 50% of all travel sold in the US.

ASTA said in a letter to the White House: “While the President’s intention surely was not to disparage the travel agency industry, his statement makes clear the need for greater education and understanding of the important role travel agents play in today’s travel marketplace.”

It pointed out that there are nearly 10,000 US-based travel agency firms operating in 15,000 locations, representing 120,000 full-time employees with annual payroll of $6.3 billion.

Agents in the US process more than $146 billion in annual travel sales, accounting for more than 50% of all travel sold, according to ASTA. This includes the processing of more than 50% of all airline tickets, more than 79% of tours and more than 78% of all cruises.