By Cat Zuniga
“Do travel agents still exist?”
“Isn’t that a bit archaic?”
“They still have those?”
Bring up the topic of a travel agent, and those are the questions you hear.
Before online booking engines, agencies controlled travel distribution and information. If a consumer wanted to know flight schedules or hotel vacancies, or book travel, they had two choices: call the supplier (the airline, hotel, or tour operator), or call a travel agent.
Online booking engines like Expedia changed this dynamic and travel agents’ role. Within one or two years, travel distribution channels multiplied exponentially. Instead of having two options for booking travel, consumers had thousands.
From a micro-economic point of view, there was a substantial increase in supply without a matching increase in demand, causing prices to fall. This is one big reason why a lot of travelers don’t see the value in travel agents that they used to.
Currently, travel agents are one of many distribution channels and no longer the controllers of travel. They’re no longer just “bookers” or “agents.” They’ve had to become specialists.
That’s not a bad thing at all. Many people are looking for advice, opinion, and guidance from an expert. The problem is that we still have the old ways in our heads, and there’s some confusing stuff out there that’s not helping us adjust to the changing times.
Travel agents today are calling themselves “advisors,” “experts,” or “specialists” to help connote the service they now offer. I particularly like the term “specialist.” A specialist isn’t someone who knows everything about a subject. A specialist is someone who knows a lot, and when they don’t know the answer, they know exactly where to go to get it.
Travel specialists today are much more resourceful and connected than ever before. So why (else) should you use one?
First, specialists protect your precious vacation dollars and hours. They’ve been to these destinations, seen the resorts, know the locations, and take the time to get to know their clients, so that they can match them to the right experience. Travel specialists hate to see their clients waste money on the wrong vacation simply because they decided to take the DIY route instead of getting help from an experienced advisor.
Second, they save you a lot of time and hassle. There’s so much information on the Internet, and it’s hard to know what’s accurate and what’s not. Travel specialists know what’s right and are able to zero in on the best options very quickly. In addition, travel specialists are the ones who sit on hold, checking fares, prices, and negotiating deals while saving their clients hours and hours of essentially dead time.
Third, travel specialists are able to get their clients special treatment they can’t get on their own. Thanks to relationships with travel suppliers, specialists are able to get amenities, upgrades, and other VIP touches that their clients don’t have access to. So even though many “do-it-yourself” vacationers may pat themselves on the back for saving $100, travel specialists often get their clients special amenities and perks worth way more than that.
Fourth, a travel specialist’s job doesn’t stop when they book their client’s travel. They go the extra mile to find great restaurants they know their clients will love, and book reservations there. They’ll often add extra special activities, golf tee times, short excursions, and additional surprise touches to a client’s booking. They prepare you for travel so there are no surprises. Some might even check to make sure your passports are current, give additional tips on packing, and provide tipping guidelines.
Finally, travel specialists are one phone call away. If clients experience unexpected surprises during their travel, they know they just have to make one phone call and the specialist will take care of the rest. You don’t get that when you call Expedia, Orbitz, or Priceline’s 800 number and you’re stuck in Bali at two in the morning.
Travel specialists really are committed to making your trip the best experience possible. They may not get you what you think is the best deal initially; that’s what Expedia, Orbitz, Travelocity, et al., are for. But if you’re looking for a true partner with the expertise to do the job right and get you the best overall value, a travel specialist is what you want.
Of course, travel specialists know you’re checking prices, even as they prepare their quote for you. But if you find a better price, most travel specialists can look at the prices you find and do a comparison. If it’s a true apples-to-apples comparison, they’ll usually price-match. Some may even beat the quote you found in order to stay competitive. This just adds to all the perks you’re already getting by booking through a travel specialist.
Not only do you get more from using a travel specialist, but you also reap the benefits of not having to do all the labor. You feel like a king and save time and money while you create memories of a lifetime. What’s not to love?
Cat Zuniga is an award-winning travel specialist. She specializes in tropical vacations for families, groups, destination weddings, and honeymooners. Visit her at www.TarverdiTravel.com.
Editor’s Note: There’s only one thing to add: The travel insurance. Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection is available through skilled travel specialists like Cat. You can also find it here.