Over the past 15 years, the number of “do-it-yourself” travelers arranging trips online has soared. Fewer than 10% of leisure travelers now use a travel agent, according to PhoCusWright, an industry research firm.
Yet, even for experienced travelers, planning and booking complicated trips online can prove daunting:
- First, there’s deciding where to start a search, with choices including online travel agencies (OTA), travel aggregators, direct sites for hotels, airlines etc., and user-review sites.
- Then there’s reading the fine print and weighing the cost of hidden charges — unbundled airline fees add an obstacle to comparing apples to apples.
- Finally, there’s the time it takes to put together all the disparate and often non-refundable pieces.
No wonder some consumers are circling back to travel agents.
The New Travel Agents Are Advisers
The new breed of agents operates differently than those of the past. Rather than merely booking transactions or acting as order-takers, agents now function as travel advisers. They work collaboratively with clients to sort through vast amounts of information and make informed decisions, much like financial advisers assist clients in managing their money.
Here are six reasons you might consider using a travel agent/adviser:
1. You’re not a travel expert.
With their training — and being well-traveled themselves — good travel advisers can offer you options you might not have considered. Some travel advisers are generalists; others specialize in niches, such as cruises, or in multigenerational group travel or in particular geographic destinations. If you book a cruise through an agent, he or she is likely to be familiar with various lines, sailings, cabins, and excursions. Some agents even have subspecialties, such as riverboat cruising.
2. You want to get it right.
Some trips are more complicated than others. For example, foreign travel is more complex than traveling to the next state. Or sometimes the stakes are too high to make a mistake when you are planning a big trip to celebrate a special birthday or anniversary or a trip that involves coordinating itineraries with friends or family members. Even on city tours or shore excursions, an agent may be able to point you to the most knowledgeable and English-proficient guides.
3. You don’t have advisers’ money-saving connections.
Travel agencies have consolidated and banded together into large consortia, affording them unusual leverage to negotiate with travel suppliers on behalf of their clients. IATA licensed travel agents are able to secure hotel upgrades, rooms with the most desirable views or extra amenities like complimentary breakfasts and spa credits. As a client of a network, you are not only treated like a V.I.P. but benefit from these no-cost perks.
4. You don’t have time to waste.
Researching and organizing a trip takes time, patience and perseverance. Putting Travel itineraries and tour activities together takes a lot of time and effort. In cases of major storms, during the holidays, and even when company websites crash, we see a huge influx of users trying to reach the airlines by phone. Wait times can be well over an hour if the user gets through at all.
5. You want a safety net in case things go wrong.
Travelers realize that even after a trip is planned, things don’t always turn out exactly as expected. A flight is canceled, a piece of luggage gets lost, a passport is pilfered or a grandchild falls ill with a high fever on foreign soil. When “stuff happens,” it is reassuring to have someone you can count on to resolve problems. You don’t want to be the one hanging on your cell phone to rearrange a flight. Many travel advisers offer clients 24/7 backup by phone and email.
What really sets a true luxury travel adviser apart are the little things that are unexpected. “We tailor-make experiences like a pre-arranged classy transfer from Airport to the final destination or helping older travelers who need baggage assistance on trains. We create something that can’t be ‘Googled’ — a personal experience,”
The Bottom Line
Travelers need to do some homework to find a genuine travel adviser who meets their needs, presumably based on some mix of chemistry, experience, License/Certification, and cost.
While using an agent can be a bit costly, it saves time and disappointment. Travel advisers manage your most valuable and non-renewable asset: your leisure time. “Price is what you pay, a value is what you get.” Warren Buffett