Many people are shocked to hear that travel agents still exist… what with the credit card companies and their points systems, the rise of the internet with the OTA booking engines, and the Airbnb revolution, travel agents are often thought of as dinosaurs. The reality is that all of those things have drastically changed the travel industry over the past several decades but rather than eliminate travel agents altogether, they have redefined the role of the travel agent into travel advisor.
Previously, a travel agent was needed for any menial travel-related transaction (issuing a ticket for a simple domestic flight, for example) and so that’s just what most agents were – transactional, a means to an end, or “order takers,” simply completing whatever booking the client requested without offering much in the way of advice or expertise. The newly emerged travel advisor is much more service-oriented: we are consultants, professional planners, advocates on behalf of our clients. And travel advisors certainly still have a role in the travel industry; as much as any other service provider has a role in the luxury high-end of almost any industry. Sure, you can do your own tax return with Turbotax or you can work one-on-one with an accountant; you can plan your own wedding taking DIY to the next level or you can hire a wedding planner. Similarly, you can either research and book a trip on your own, or you can opt to work with a reliable travel expert. The choice is completely up to you, but there are a few benefits worth considering that come with working with a reputable travel advisor:
1 – Expertise: Travel advisors are professionals and travel is their trade. While you may read travel magazines and follow influencers on Instagram, I guarantee you don’t spend 8-10 hours a day learning about new destinations, working on itineraries, and sharing information amongst thousands of industry colleagues, or take regular familiarization trips. And of course, if a travel advisor has been to a given destination they have a lot of insider info, but even if they haven’t, it’s not a deal breaker – we have preferred partners to collaborate with in every country, and most likely we have a colleague willing and able to share their first-hand experience as well.
2 – Industry Connections: Related to the above, travel advisors are constantly networking with sales reps for airlines, tour operators, hotels and cruise lines. We know these people personally – whether we met at a conference, socialized at a networking event, or just attended an online training for their property or product, we have their email and cell phone number. And depending on how much time we’ve spent together, we may also know the names of the kids and pets. In a world that has become increasingly automated and digital, I believe there is immense value in the human connection. It means a lot more when a property receives an email from one of their travel advisor contacts about a client’s upcoming arrival versus an automated confirmation from an online booking engine… of the two, who do you think is getting the room with the better view?
3 – VIP benefits: Most travel advisors are independent contractors, meaning they have their own business, but they are affiliated with a larger host agency (like Travel Edge) that is part of an industry consortium (such as Virtuoso). Let’s think about a hotel in Cabo, Mexico for an example. As a client you may book one weekend at this hotel this year – two room nights. As an advisor, we may book 3 clients at that property this year, totaling 6-10 room nights. At the host agency level, the number of room nights goes up further, and at the consortium level, even higher. When you are booking through a luxury travel advisor, you are tapping into that collective buying power. You are no longer Joe Shmo from New York, you’re a client of ATLAS + VALISE, a Travel Edge client, a Virtuoso client. All of these new titles come with extra benefits: complimentary room upgrades, free breakfasts, special attention and welcome amenities, etc. Now you could argue that you can get many of these benefits from your credit card company as well – and depending on your credit card, that may be true, because your credit card company is simply operating a travel agency. However, there is still a hierarchy to these extra benefits. Clients booked through preferred partner agencies are at the very top of the barrel and first in the VIP line.
4 – Customer Service: Another huge benefit of working with a travel advisor is the 1-on-1 human connection between you and them. Clients have my cell phone number and I am VERY responsive on email – you won’t be waiting on hold or sitting around wondering how to get in touch with me if you have an issue. Now yes, of course I sleep and workout and I’m not working 24/7, but when clients are traveling I am checking in constantly to ensure all is going smoothly. If there is an issue, I’m just a quick phone call away.
5 – Customization: As part of our commitment to customer service, travel advisors go above and beyond when it comes to customization. The first part of the process involves a kick-off conversation where we spend time getting to know you, what you like and what you don’t. When we work on a trip for you, nothing is cookie cutter and everything is curated specifically to your requests. Before I became a travel professional, I regularly researched planned and booked all my trips, but I have to admit, when it came to an exotic destination (Machu Picchu, Tanzania, China), I often felt unsure where to start with just online resources and thus would gravitate towards small group tours. Now if escorted tours are your jam then more power to you (and travel advisors can still assist by helping you weed through all the options and finding the one that’s right for you, plus advising on booking terms, managing payments, and coordinating flights and pre and post options), but if you’d rather travel solo as a family or with a group of friends (yet with excellent guides and seamless logistics), then a travel advisor has the vetted and trusted partners in every country around the world to make that happen for you.
6 – Time Savings: Planning a trip can take hours and hours of research, then of course when you finally go to book the hotel you decided on, it’s not available for your dates and you have to rework the whole itinerary. Travel advisors manage this process for you. As mentioned above, we are constantly training and learning from our global partners and from each other. We’re also constantly working on client itineraries so while everything is customized to you, when it comes to a roadtrip through the Southwest or a villa rental in Tuscany, we’re not starting from scratch – we already have a starting point and experience in this. That saves you a whole lot of time!
7 – No Stress: You hire a travel advisor to ensure the logistics are seamless. Chances are you worked hard to earn the money for this vacation, and this is your time off from work to relax, to reconnect with family, to rediscover the world. The last thing you need is to be stressed about finding a taxi at the airport or figuring out what to do on your first day in Paris. Whether you want to plan out every step or merely have a curated list of options for each day, advisors are there to assist and eliminate the stress however it may present to you.
8 – Help in Times of Crisis: This is perhaps the most relevant reason right now to work with a trusted travel advisor. When the current COVID-19 crisis started, travelers who booked with online travel engines, or even with their credit card agency, were unable to get through to a human on the phone and talk through the options for postponing or cancelling their upcoming trip. They were at a loss and left to fend for themselves. Clients of travel advisors were contacted proactively, they received timely and regularly updated information on the status of the virus, cancellations, credits, revised terms & conditions. We have been working around the clock over the past two months to ensure all our clients returned home safely, that trips were cancelled as needed and that clients were refunded or credited any money due.
These points represent the inherent value of working with a travel advisor. Do we charge fees for our services? Yes we do, just like any other service professional. But frankly in comparison to the cost of your trip, the fees are minimal and the benefits you receive far outweigh them.