"You're a Travel Agent? Is that still a Thing?"
From time to time, I still get that question. Since this is my career now, that question still stings a little when I hear it.
But it is a valid question. The short answer is that, now more than ever, a travel agent is important for several reasons and I will be covering those reasons in this post. But, honestly, there are times when you probably don’t need my services and I will talk about those as well. Lastly, I will touch on a few situations that that I have personally experienced that I would recommend you consider when working with a travel agent.
By the way, everything I talk about here comes from my own experience or is backed up by several other blog posts, video’s, and podcasts.
The Benefits of Working with a Travel Agent
Let’s first consider the value of your time. Let’s say you want to go on a two-week trip to Europe, and visit 4 different locations in that time. So this will mean airfare, and likely different arrival and departure airports. Then there will be 4 hotels. You will also need transportation to and from the airports and transportation between the 4 locations. You will also want to schedule things to do in each location. And you will want to know somethings about each location (places to eat, climate, etc). Lastly, you will want to know about any entrance or exit requirements that may exist (visas, departure taxes, etc).
Not only is it time-consuming to go through this process, but some of these things are changing. Let’s consider hotels, for example. Want to go to Paris? Well, doing a quick search of “Hotels in Paris” on one listing I use, there are 1,960 hotels in Paris. Want to narrow it down a bit more? Okay, let’s narrow it down to the area around the Eiffel Tower. We are now down to 47. If you have never been to Paris, you still have a lot of work to do to review these hotels.
And as far as looking for things to do in Paris? A quick check on Viator for things to do in Paris turns up over 2,800 tours and tickets.
So, since we said we were going to 4 different locations in France, multiply what I just explained by 4, and now add transportation between locations. Still want to dig through all of this?
And that brings me to the next benefit:
Continuing on with my example of expertise, which of those 47 hotels around the Eiffel Tower should be considered? Well, as a travel agent, I spend a lot of time reviewing and researching information on different hotels. It is true that no travel agent has been everywhere, but we do several things to help.
First, we do try to get first-hand experiences. This past year, we went to Ireland and Scotland, and we stayed in at least 8 hotels. I guarantee you that there was one hotel in Galway that I will not recommend until I am told that they have managed to overhaul their plumbing. I should not need to have the front desk send someone to my room to show me that, in order to flush the toilet, you have to pump the handle at least 4 times. And this hotel shows up in the ratings as a 4-star hotel, has a TripAdvisor rating of 4.0 out of 5, with over 3,000 reviews, and is rated 23 out of 48 in Galway.
Second, we talk to other agents. What recommendations do they have? Where have they stayed and where do they send their clients?
Third, we talk to our other clients about their experiences.
Fourth, we constantly get information on different places through correspondence from visitor bureaus, travel agent information services and from the venues themselves.
Last, we constantly review requirements for entering and exiting different countries.
Access to information not available to the general public
As a travel agent, I have access to resources not necessarily available to the general public. Some of these resources are known as “Destination Management Companies” (DMC’s). These companies have experts in the location. They work with travel agents to put together packages for a specific location, and often have access to specific opportunities that are not widely available.
The second way is with companies that can bundle air, hotel and rental car packages. These packages are often less expensive than getting each component separately.
I am your advocate
I’ll just leave this here: When you book with someone like Expedia, or even Costco, who are you going to have work with you if something goes wrong? When you work with a travel agent, they are your advocate.
When to Book Online By Yourself
There are times when it makes more sense for you to make reservations on your own:
Only a Flight, Rental Car, or Hotel
If all you need is a flight or a rental car, it makes more sense for you to use the Airline or Rental Car website to make the booking. This is especially true if you are staying in the United States. And the same is true for hotels if you are staying in the US.
And in all cases, I emphasize using the website of the airline, rental agency or the hotel. Again, if there is a problem in your booking, and you book through Expedia, Booking.com, etc, you may easily be told you will have to take up any issues with them, and not the airline, agency or hotel.
Using Rewards Points
If you are using points from a loyalty program to pay for your trip, you are better off working directly with the airline or hotel.
Using AirBnB or VRBO
Simply put, these companies won’t work with travel agents. And I do not recommend using them. I have heard far too many cases where what the client got was not what was represented. In at least two incidents I read about, it was outright fraud on the part of the property owner. If you want to use these services, be absolutely sure of what you are getting.
Do's and Don'ts when working with a travel agent
Who, What, When, Where and Why?
With every client, for every trip, I always start with a meeting to discuss your trip. During this meeting, one of the things I will try to understand is the answer to these five things. This is your trip. What you may want could be very different from what I envision for a trip. This first meeting is to determine if I am the right fit for you, and for me to understand what you envision for your trip.
This is always a tough question, I know. For you, the quandary is one of two things. You will be concerned that if you give a number too high, you will end up overpaying. On the other hand, you may be afraid of giving a number too low that won’t get everything you want.
The best advice I have is to be flexible and clear about what you want on the trip. It is not productive for me to plan a trip that is twice what you are willing to pay. But, if I come up with a cost higher than what you had in mind, it is up to me to justify that amount.
Pick Your Travel Agent that is right for you
Not all travel agents are alike. My niche is European Travel. Others I work with specialize in the Caribbean, All-Inclusive Resorts, Disney Theme Parks or just Tours or Cruises. Pick one that meets your needs. And if I am not the right fit for you, I will refer you to someone who is.
Once we agree to work together, let's stay together
Unfortunately, the following situation has become very common: The customer meets with the travel agent and asks for a trip to be created. The agent develops an itinerary for the customer. The customer then takes the itinerary and books it online or takes it to another supplier. In the meantime, the agent who created the itinerary has just spent several days putting the trip together and receives no compensation. This has happened to me, and from my conversations with other agents, it is relatively common.
As a result, many agents, including me, will charge a planning fee. This planning fee is not intended to cover the agent’s compensation completely. Instead, it is intended to create an obligation on my part to make the best trip possible for you, and it signals on your part that you are serious about working with me.
Ready to move forward?
Travel, to me, is special. We travel for the experience. We travel because we value that experience.
Above all, I want to express that I am here to help you make the right connection. My objective is, when you return from a trip I have planned for you, the first thing I want to here you say is “Wow!”