Travel agents were once considered the dinosaurs of travel, something used before the Internet took over and eliminated the need for them. True, we can book airfare, hotels, car rentals, even cruise vacations online either directly with the supplier or through discount operations like Travelocity, Kayak and others. But should we? These days, the tide seems to be turning as individual and business travelers are turning to a new, relevant travel agent that is good to have around.
“There is no doubt that today’s travellers have more options than ever before; from destinations, packages and pricing to booking methods and itineraries,” Debra Maher, owner of Cruise Holidays said in a Northern Life report. “One of the most important decisions a traveller can make is selecting the right travel agent, to help them get started on the right foot.”
Case in point: American Airlines.
This week, American Airline pilots are expected to authorize their union to call a strike, effectively grounding the airline. In reality, a work stoppage would be weeks off and the White House can intervene to stop a strike, citing the interests of U.S. commerce. But these are the things that make travelers nervous and has those who use travel agents for something as simple as booking an airline ticket happy they did.
“Travel agents are there for their clients before, during and after the trip and when the unexpected happens,” added Maher. “We provide value, expertise, convenience and personal service to our customers and understand that travel planning isn’t just about places, it’s about people.”
It’s not all about handling emergency situations though. For example, the world of business travel is re-discovering the services of travel agents and the benefit of using them as we see in this new video from CNN released this week:
The decision to use a travel agent comes easy when concerned about traveling to places around the world where political unrest, riots or other security matters are of concern. In those situations, sure, we want that extra level of protection and guidance – someone to call to handle it for us.
More commonly, travel agents can offer value that travelers could not get on their own.
That value may translate to lower prices, complimentary upgrades, bonus amenities when traveling and other good things down the line, after booking. That “after booking” part is the unknown, difficult-to-measure factor that eludes many travelers.
“The bottom line is that they know more than you do, they are better connected than you,” said travel expert Larry Olmstead in Forbes, “they have access to benefits you can’t get otherwise, they can often beat any other prices available (even online, yes), and after you have planned everything, they provide a safety net during your trip that you simply won’t get by booking yourself or buying insurance.”
But how do you find a good travel agent?
The process is quite similar to finding a good real estate agent, insurance agent or even a accountant or investment specialist to handle personal finances. Word-of-mouth recommendations from friends are a good place to start but the name of the game is building a long-term business relationship and that takes time.
Looking at a travel agent as the ‘person who handles travel’ like your accountant is the person who ‘handles your taxes’ is the way to go and with every success they have on your behalf, the more their stock goes up as a trusted personal advisor.
Checking with your local Better Business Bureau, a local chamber of commerce or other professional organization like the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) or American Society Of Travel Agents (ASTA) are also good places to begin, even with the recommendation of a friend.
Getting the thumbs up on a potential agent from multiple sources should head you in the right direction to finding one that can be of great value for life.
[Flickr photo by Dan Nguyen @ New York City]