The travel industry is an ever-changing landscape, not only in the places people visit, but in the steps folks take in order to make their trip possible. Accommodations, modes of transportation, travel regulations, documentation, and itineraries… it’s enough to make your head spin. Pre-2000, when people wanted to go somewhere, they would stop by their local travel agent’s office, chat about destinations and dates and voilà, a fantastic travel package landed in your hands.
It’s been just shy of two decades since the birth of travel websites such as Hotwire and Expedia, which seemed to shake the foundation of traditional brick and mortar agencies. But like a pendulum, the ball is starting to swing in the other direction, and people are once again seeking the expertise of travel agents.
Yes, times are a-changing, but what does this really mean for you as a consumer? I sat down with Tia Gruol, travel guru with Anywhere But Here Travel, to get her insight about the industry.
“When [online travel sites] first came out, it was novel and exciting for those of us who have seen the computer age and the web come alive. We were thrilled to be able to do this on our own.” Initially, there were only a few sites to choose from, but soon after, the market was flooded. “The choices became so many, that you spend an hour just trying to find a flight.”
So, why this shift back to travel agencies? As Tia explained, “People who are traveling are on computers all day long, at work and at home, and they are sick and tired of being on the computer. When it comes to travel, they just want someone else to do it for them.”
There are some big differences with travel agencies nowadays. In the past, agencies used to be paid by the vendors they were working with; however, it’s structured differently now. One prime example of this is that travel agencies no longer receive money from airlines when booking tickets for customers. “We don’t get paid unless you pay a consultation fee. Almost every travel agency will charge this type of fee – some may require this payment upfront, while others will weave this expense into your travel package,” Tia illustrated.
But wait! Does this make booking through a travel agent more expensive? Absolutely not. There are a few things to consider when you are looking at the “value” of your trip. When agents put together a travel package for you, they are often personalizing your trip, so you are getting exactly what you want – something that is often compromised when you book travel packages online by yourself. Moreover, travel agency’s prices are often competitive with prices you’ll find online. However, if the price tag happens to be a little higher, remember that you are getting a personalized package that suits your exact needs. That’s where the added-value comes into play.
This customer-focused approach is where Anywhere But Here Travel shines. After an initial travel consultation to go over the basics of your trip (dates and location), your personal agent will set up a “clarity session” where they get to know you as a traveler. Do you like having a set itinerary or do you like a little more spontaneity? Are you a thrill-seeker? Do you like history? Do you love trying new things? Anywhere But Here Travel tries to get at the heart of who you are and will craft a travel package that perfectly suits your needs. Tia explained that, “We present that package to you, and you have the option to book it on your own or your agent can handle it for you.” If customers opt to go through the agency, “we would negotiate with the hotel and all the vendors and put it all together in this neat little package.”
For simple domestic trips, travel sites are still a good option. For anything more complex such as international travel or group trips, consider talking to an agent. Here are the five biggest benefits of booking through a travel agency:
1. All the nitty-gritty details are handled for you
Agents will search for the right flight and handle the details of a tricky itinerary. This is probably my #1 reason for booking with an agent. I traveled with a group of seven to Ireland two years ago. We were all flying from different parts of the U.S. and our agent was able to coordinate our flights, so that we all convened in New Jersey and then continued onto Dublin on the same flight. Agents can also help find the perfect accommodations – specific to the point where your agent should know the types of beds used in the resort/cabin/hotel/motel. Bonus – by packaging flights, hotels, and cars, a travel agency is able to offer you a better deal.
2. The pressure is taken off your shoulders
When booking a trip for a group, the responsibility often falls on the shoulders of one person, which can be super stressful if you are handling this on your own. When going through a travel agency, this pressure is transferred to your agent who will happily field all of the questions regarding your trip. Remember: agents are travel experts. Let them do what they do best! The process – start to finish – should be seamless.
3. Negotiations are made your behalf
When going through an agent, they are able to work with their vendors to not only get you the flights and stays you want, but they are sometimes able to get you extras such as a room upgrade or an additional day. Additionally, travel agents are well-connected and have access to resorts and rooms that you won’t find on Expedia or other similar sites. As Tia pointed out, “You are spending the same amount you would on [travel sites], but you’re getting a better deal for what you are spending.”
4. Travel obstacles are handled
As you know, things can go awry when you’re traveling. Bad weather. Late connections. Cancelled flights. Illness. It can be frustrating, but thankfully, this is when your agent steps in. “When you’re on your trip and something happens, we are the ones who take care of it.” Like when you fly overseas, and you’re stuck in a country because the airline you booked everything through has gone bankrupt. True story: this actually happened to me. And no, I did not book through an agent. Lesson learned here, folks.
5. Best value for your buck
Your bottom line for travel is of the utmost importance, and agencies understand this. Yes, you can book through travel sites, but there are some big benefits when going through a travel agency. Your agent will help you stay within your budget and help ensure you’re not wasting money on unnecessary things that might be included in a prepackaged deal through a travel site. “You’re going to go on the same trip, but you’ll have a totally different experience.”
When you go to book your next trip, consider contacting your local agent. And if you want to work with the superstar team at Anywhere But Here Travel, please visit: www.anywherebuthere.travel to chat and perhaps schedule a consultation. As Tia so aptly said, “Say yes to adventure!”