A Polish hunter has taken a trip to court to file charges against his German tour operator. According to the hunter, the tour agency failed to help him fulfill his dream of shooting an elephant.
Feel free to read that last part again – he is suing the company, because he was not able to kill an elephant.
The company in question, German based Jaworski Jagdreisen specializes in hunting trips, allowing tourists to shoot wild boar, red stag, sheep, pheasant and more. Their trips are organized all around the world, but they claim Latvia is currently a “hot destination”.
In his complaint, the customer identified as Waldemar I. claims there were absolutely no elephants anywhere near his hunting location in Zimbabwe. The tour operator fired back saying:
“From what I know, (the hunter) should have seen elephant excrement there”
Mr. I. is claiming damages worth $130,000 and will know whether he’s entitled to the money on February 15. To top it all off, he’s claiming these damages after the tour operator sent him on a second trip where he actually did manage to kill a male elephant. Some people are just never happy with anything…
Obviously, the nasty snow storms in December are what triggered his article, and in it, he describes how a travel agent can perform miracles most of us have to wait in line for at the airport.
Now, I can clearly remember the last time I used a travel agent – it was the year I got my first cellphone (1992). After that, I always took care of myself. First using a dumb terminal, then with primitive Internet based booking tools, and then moving on to the current generation booking sites.
And to be honest, I thought I’d never look back. In my opinion, the travel agent only did things I could already do myself. When I booked my honeymoon cruise, I tried walking into a local agency, but ended up finding a much better deal online.
So, why the sudden interest in the services of a travel agent? When people found out that the airlines don’t have the resources to deal with a large crisis, they got angry. And rightfully so – some passengers spent five hours on hold, only to be told that their next flight out would have to call back the next day.
Of course, there is a price to pay when you hand over your booking requests to someone else – fees of around $37.50 per ticket. Add that to your baggage fee, fuel surcharges and other charges, and the price may simply be too high.
Additionally, business travelers are usually already protected by their corporate travel booking service – which means the vast majority of customers for a travel agency would be consumers – a group most likely not too eager to fork over extra cash. And of course, there are also top-tier elite members of the airline that have direct access to their own service desk – usually bypassing any long hold times.
Gadling spoke with several travel agents for their views on why booking with them isn’t as crazy as it may seem. Luxury travel consultant John Clifford (@LuxTravel), President of InternationalTravelManagement.com shares his expert tips:
The “internet information overload” has reached critical mass, and now aside from this overload, we have “crowd sourcing” to take into consideration such as recommendations from friends on Facebook, colleagues on Twitter, anonymous Yelp reviews and the like?
How in the world does anyone cut through the noise and make sense of it all? Sure they may espouse the greatest upgrade they got at a luxury chain hotel but that was because of all their loyalty points. It would not pertain to your stay, so how does that help you?
But trained, travel professionals, or “travel consultants” of today do. They/we’ve made it through the internet boom of the 90’s and redefined ourselves to be “lifestyle guides” that really take the time to listen & learn about each individual, and like a skilled artisan, carefully craft suggestions that are ONLY pertinent to travelers’ needs & wants.
If you consider only the facts of world developments, wars, strikes, natural disasters, storms, etc — that alone is proof enough for many to realize the old saying rings true, “without a travel agent, you’re on your own”.
Self booking is just that – it’s just the BOOKING or the very first step of a trip.
The entire travel cycle of experiences starts that moment and making wrong or uneducated decisions can reverberate through your entire travel experience and if you booked online, you have only yourself to get you out of a jam, out of a hotel room that looked cool on the web but in fact is a dump, or having accidentally booked yourself into Bucharest (Romania) instead of Budapest (Hungary) which a former client actually did and called me to help get him out of it.
Travel is becoming less transactional and more experiential. Even the harrowing experience of this last week where tens of thousands were stranded in NY during Christmas weekend were left without help, gate agents at airports reduced, call centers understaffed due to growth of online booking, web sites overloaded and not functioning and airline agents on twitter posing as customer service angels, when in reality only directing consumers to “be patient”, “wait it out”, and commiserate with those stranded.
I saved numerous clients from the recent storms, even my CPA who has never used me before as his wife likes to “play travel agent”
He was flying NYC-San Diego on an American Airlines flight (and a connection as well) and after holding for hours on the phone, American advised his wife it would be days before he could get home and he could sleep at the airport without any free stays, as “acts of God” are not covered.
After hours, he called and requested my help and getting his message on my iPhone,I immediately sprung to action and snagged him a low cost seat on the non stop JetBlue flight from JFK-San Diego, knowing they’re a smaller airline that is more creative & reliable in a pinch, and one that didn’t have to rely on a hub-and-spoke network to get him home like American did.
He did get home the next day instead of 4 days later.
And Deborah Peniuk, Owner & Travel Writer of AYA Life added:
The internet can be a great place to purchase certain travel products. I consult with clients on their best options for free; help them discover savings that don’t have hidden restrictions. There is a huge difference, so don’t confuse “transportation” with “vacation.” They are generally not interchangeable.
As your travel agent, I can work to immediately reschedule or cancel your trip in the event of a natural disaster (or Mother Nature not playing nice). Less worries for you! I help my clients to avoid online scams and “false” advertisements that are rampant online. I also take considerable time to explain to my clients the logic of travel insurance and recommend it every time!
Good luck trying to get the flight that you are late for changed if you’re in transit. If the WiFi in your airport goes down you’ll need serendipity to successfully maneuver the online morass. I strongly suggest checking the FAQ section; cancellation penalties and restrictions are usually hidden in the fine print. I’ve had clients who have called in a panic with huge apologies, wishing they’d booked with me (for my minimal service fee) instead of the huge dollars they end up paying to change their online booking.
We are consumer advocates: if you have a problem during your trip, as your travel agent I can act on your behalf to see that proper restitutions are made. You have a real person who is a phone call away to go back and complain to. As your travel agent, I will work hard to rectify issues and fulfill the trust you put in me. I add a “personal touch” to your travel planning experience and I offer help and advice that no website can provide. Wouldn’t you rather have a travel expert plan your trip? My Blackberry is never far from my ear!
In other words – you need to determine how much your time is worth – there is no denying that booking through a travel agent will cost a bit more, and it may not be as convenient as heading over to your favorite travel website and clicking “buy now”. The best way to think of the travel agent is as just another insurance – you may make 20 trips without actually needing their additional services, but once a blizzard hits during that 21st trip, you’ll be happy you paid a bit more once your travel agent gets you rebooked in minutes rather than hours.
What do you think? Could the additional services of a travel agent convince you to try them out instead of booking directly with an online travel site or airline booking engine?
Some travel agents are not going to like this idea at all. Those would be the ones that are just in it for the commission. Others, the ones you want, the good ones, won’t have a problem with this and will pass the test with flying colors.
“Finding a good travel agent who will work with you to select the best cruise possible is sometimes as difficult as finding a good doctor, dentist or other service professional.” says cruise travel expert Linda Garrison from About.com.
A big advantage you have with travel agents is that you can test them. Other than seeing diplomas hanging on the wall or Googling a prospective doctor or dentist online, you really can’t test them much before using them.
The test: Fake-book a sample cruise. Pick an easy one using the following variables:
4 to 6 nights
2 guests, both under 55, residents of New York, not in the military
You want to sail sometime during the month of August 2011
Least expensive mid-ship Balcony cabin.
Try that online at the Carnival website then at Expedia.com and send it via email to your cruise travel agent or potential agent if you don’t have one. You’ll have to go all the way through the process online, stopping short of providing a credit card, to get the final price. Your good travel agent will take some time to get back to you but it should be reasonable.
How long did it take to complete the process with the cruise line, Expedia.com and your travel agent?
Which source offered you the most options?
Which source had the best price?
Which source offered a human being that could look beyond the numbers and facts like humans do, offering me the best alternatives?
OK, so the last one was a slightly loaded question but the point is well taken: A good travel agent will be the one that takes a personal interest in you, your plans and can look beyond just the numbers, fees and facts with a focus on not just price but the experience itself.
The end of the year is the time for all kinds of predictions for the next one. Usually, I treat such conjecture as the bullshit that it is, but when PhoCusWright puts out a list of what’ll happen for the travel market, I tend to take it a little much more seriously.
1. Up a third: PhoCusWright forecasts that the online segment of the travel market will hit 34 percent of the entire industry in Europe in 2010. Customers will turn to the internet to find better bargains, accelerating the shift from offline to online. At the end of 2008, online accounted for only 28% of European travel sales.
2. Priceline’s the one to beat:Priceline has lagged the three largest online travel agencies – Expedia, Orbitz and Travelocity – for years, but Priceline has seized some serious market share through the travel recession, due in large part to its acquisition of European company Booking.com. Priceline could take the #2 spot next year and will be well-positioned for the future.3. Metasearch arrival: Finally, there will be a solution to the fragmented online travel market! PhoCusWright forecasts the growth of sites that search across sites, which makes sense given that financial concerns are driving travel buyers to the web instead of traditional venues. There’s demand already, and economic conditions will feed the trend.
4. Big in Germany: Germany’s been gaining ground in the European travel market. In 2008, the country was responsible for only 17 percent of the space. Look for it to hit 20 percent by 2011, PhoCusWright says.
5. Look south for sunshine: Online penetration has topped 40 percent in the United Kingdom, and France and Germany are making progress. The easy wins are in the past. So, the travel business is looking toward the emerging travel markets of Europe: in the south and east.
There’s plenty on the agenda for the European travel market next year. Even in what will continue to be a tight economic environment, there’s plenty of room for growth. No doubt, the most important factor will be the recession, which will shape travel company behavior by driving buyers to seek better deals. The perception that online is the place to save will accelerate the push to electrons.
Did you know that parts of the Great Wall of China are underwater? Yeah, me neither. But according to Urban Daddy, one particular section of the wall has been submerged under a lake since the 1980’s. And now a luxury tour company called Urbane Nomads is offering the first-ever guided diving trips to the hard-to-reach spot.
Guides will carry your gear to the submerged portion of the Wall and direct you to the coolest underwater spots, where you’ll see “Ming-era stone carvings, some intricate tunnels and a tight-squeeze guard tower”. The “Diving the Great Wall” package includes two dives at the site plus more exclusive activities like a guided tour to the unrestored parts of the Forbidden City, usually off-limits to tourists.
The group at Urbane Nomads calls themselves “travel mixologists” creating unique itineraries that customers can tweak according to their preferences while still keeping the main ingredients. There’s definitely an emphasis on luxury here, though the company claims that, unlike other high-end tour operators, their tours seek to connect visitors with the local culture (in a way that is not staged or touristy) rather than isolating them from it. In addition to China, they offer tours to over 30 destinations, including Spain, South Africa, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Oman, Thailand, Turkey, Laos, Morocco, and Argentina.