This year promises to be a busy one for the travel industry, as record numbers of travelers take to the skies, the rivers and the seas. With more ships, more flights and less legroom than ever, Travel Market Report asked travel agents why they think a traveler should never travel without a professional travel advisor behind them.
1. Travel is more complicated than ever.
With 24 new cruise ships coming online — never mind the new resorts and new airline fare categories — keeping with the options is a full-time job. And the growing trend toward groups of families and friends traveling together makes each trip a much more important purchase. Having a professional help with the planning and logistics can have a big impact on how much you spend on — and how much you enjoy — your vacation.
2. Travel advisors are on top of what’s new and exciting.
The world is full of once-in-a-lifetime experiences in 2019. If you’d like to see The Passion Play at Oberammergau, the Tokyo Summer Olympics, the 2020 World Expo in Dubai, the cricket World Cup in Australia or the inaugural sailing of Virgin Cruise, travel professionals have access to the best tour packages and exclusive events, and they understand how to navigate the logistics, said Ashley Metesh-McCoy.
3. They save you so much time and stress.
Sure, reading about places to go is fun — but planning a trip is hard work, and you never know what to believe. Travel agents travel the world, looking at everything, from the size of the rooms in hotels and cruise ships to the dining options on-site and nearby. If they haven’t personally been where you want to go, they know someone who has. They can answer your questions quickly and correctly.
4. Travel advisors have your back when you need an advocate.
Blame global warming, acts of God or just the luck of the draw, but 2018 was a year of volcanoes erupting, earthquakes shaking and airlines failing, not to mention just plain bad weather, and 2019 promises to be the same. Whether the problem is getting there, getting in or getting out, your travel agent will get you where you want to go.
5. There is no do-over for a vacation gone wrong.
Life is busier and more demanding than ever, and vacation time is more valuable. Travel agents can save you hours, not just in doing research to find you the perfect vacation, but also just sitting on hold with short-staffed airlines and resorts to make your vacation perfect.
6. Travel advisors add a human element — and an element of trust.
Travel advisors are invested in their clients’ happiness and satisfaction and want to make sure each and every trip is packed full of positive lifelong memories. They listen, suggest, adjust, understand and become a friend … not just a search engine or an anonymous voice. They are with you before, during and after your trip.
7. The world is constantly changing, and travel agents are on the ground experiencing it.
Has the Caribbean recovered from Hurricane Maria? Is it safe to travel to the Middle East? Travel advisors don’t just sell a destination. They discover, research and experience the places they offer, over and over.
8. They often save you money — and if not, they deliver more value.
Even if your travel agent charges a fee, the value you receive will be bigger than what you paid. Cruise lines and many resorts get the majority of their customers through travel agents — and they reward the best ones with perks to share with you.
9. Travel agents offer unique services for discerning clients.
It all comes down to who you know. And odds are, they know that guy or gal.
10. Like any professional advisors, they really do know more than you do.
You can cut your own hair and do your own taxes and perk your own coffee, but a professional can do it better. You can plan your own vacation, too. Good luck with that.
David Liotta, of Flight Centre, offered a compelling insight: “Here’s the Starbucks Analogy. One of the most popular and successful companies in America makes and sells something that almost everyone is capable of making for themselves at home. But people want the experience of buying from Starbucks, which includes the atmosphere and the skills of the barista. Starbucks also creates specialized products and they are experts in putting them together. You can get all sorts of fancy, complex drinks you didn’t even think of before. Sure, you can make coffee at home, but how many of us would be able to create a complex concoction, and do it with the speed and consistency of a Starbucks barista? Because of all this, people readily pay more to buy from Starbucks, and no one would ever think of demanding that they price-match McDonalds coffee or complain to the barista that they could make the same thing themselves.”
The most common theme and benefit of using a travel agent, as it is reiterated in several of the items on our top 10 list above, is how they help consumers sort through the overwhelming amount of travel options available today. Tom Carr, of Preferred Vacations LLC, said: “The evolution of unbundled airfares will continue. Basic Economy and other ‘innovations’ pose great challenges for the uninformed traveler. When the rules change, agents are uniquely positioned to provide vital advice.”
In full agreement, Teri Hurley, of Endless Love Travel, said: “We have what do-it-yourselfers don’t, including ladders to climb and buttons to push. But most of all, we save people from themselves. Crowd-sourcing strangers on social media sites is a sure-fire recipe for trip disaster.”
Karen Quinn-Panzer, of Dream Vacations Quinn-Panzer Travel, said: “It’s a challenging cruise industry out there, and travel agents help people sort through all the cruise lines with dozens of cabin categories and multiple rate codes, refundable vs. non-refundable rates, guaranteed cabins vs. cabins with free perks. We help people find the best offer based on what’s most important to them.”
“Like an Alexa or Siri in the palm of your hand, I’m just a quick call, text, email or Facebook message away,” said Dillon Guyer, of Guyer Travel International.
Travel advisors can also be heroes for their clients. Mark Gelfand, general counsel at National Dental and a customer of Teri Axel at Herricks Travel, commented: “My travel agent can do anything, from a birthday celebration in Aruba for 120 people to an intimate getaway in Jamaica with my wife. I just love working with her because she takes on all the stress, and I just go and enjoy myself.”
Then, there’s the matter of sorting out travel challenges when a trip goes awry. A frequent traveler, JP Acco, described: “True story … After a 23-hour flight to Bangkok, the hotel front desk told us our reservation had been canceled. We said, ‘Here is the telephone number of our travel agent. Please call him and ask what happened to our reservation.’ Clerk came back 10 minutes later and said he had found it. In the past, we’ve booked with Expedia and Airbnb and have been disappointed, and had to fix problems ourselves. But that takes patience — and after a 23-hour flight, I have no patience. Get an agent, who needs that stress?”
A customer of travel advisor Sandy Farber said: “We just returned from a trip to Eastern Europe where we had a problem with one of the airlines, and Sandy had us booked on another flight before anyone else on the plane even knew there was a problem.”
In dealing with clients, travel agent John Sposato likes to add in some extras. He said: “I’m a believer in investing in my clients. I purchase things for them to help enhance their trip (a specific excursion, a goodie bag of maps and other items); I email checklists and other documents I have compiled over the years about things to do and top concerns.”
The depth of one agent’s passion for the industry and her clients is demonstrated in a comment from Suzanne Haire, of All Travel Company. She said: “Beyond the industry basics – the industry and product knowledge, time and cost savings, truthful and honest information and some upgraded perks, it really comes down to the fact that I run my business on a ‘Know me, like me, and trust me’ basis. Please DO friend me on Facebook. Please DO ask me questions or tell me things you just want to get off your mind. Please DO come to my Client Appreciation nights so we can say hello.”