First of all I just have to say one thing… Is using a travel agency really worth WHAT? Money? Because if that’s what you’re worried about, that most definitely is not the difference between using a travel agency and doing it on your own. If anything, you will SAVE money… AND you get added benefits on top of that. So let’s not act like you’re sacrificing something, ie money, to begin with…
So to answer the question “Is using a travel agency really worth it?” (whatever “it” may be)–well, that depends. But the short answer is yes.
A good travel consultant gets to know her clients. She probes them and converses with them until she feels she has a good handle on the type of traveler they are and the trip experience they’ve envisioned. A good travel consultant doesn’t ask a client what they want—she learns what they want. Believe it or not, most of my clients don’t really know what they want the first time I sit down with them. Even when they think they do, much of the time I find out that they really don’t. And then I explain to them why they don’t know what they want—and they’re grateful for it.
If what you want is a booking engine—to walk into a travel agency and tell them what you want and to have them reserve it for you, then you don’t need a travel agency. You need the internet. If what you want is the cheapest price only, with disregard to what you’ll actually be getting for that price and what exactly your money is going toward, then you need Google, not a travel consultant.
But if you want to speak with someone with experience and firsthand knowledge about the world, someone who can help you weigh the pros and cons and someone who knows what places will fit your vision of the ideal vacation, then a travel agency is absolutely worth it.
If you notice, I never mention the word “agent”. When you see that, don’t you think of the 80’s, a line of salespeople in cubicles with their big box computers, spiral corded phones, and hand-written plane tickets; almost like the room of stock brokers yelling out prices in The Wolf of Wall Street, paying no mind to the person sitting in front of them, only barking out numbers and taking orders.
Travel consultants have evolved and, believe it or not, the demand for them is on the rise. Times have changed. Consumers are internet savvy and have the ability to look things up independently and even reserve them. But contrary to popular belief, that doesn’t mean travel consultants are “phasing out”.
Sure, maybe they did for a while there in the 90’s, but now that there are so many websites, such an overload of information, and such an overwhelming number of contradictory reviews and opinions about all things travel, talking to a real person has taken on a whole new value in recent years.
For those who enjoy doing the research themselves and need to do it to feel comfortable with the hotels they choose or the cruise they decide on, great! Don’t use a travel consultant. You just spent 36 hours researching and narrowing down on something I could have told you in 3 minutes—because I do it every day, all day, and I’m just chomping at the bit to share my expertise with you and to make your life easier.
For those who use CheapCaribbean.com, Expedia, and Travelocity—awesome! They’re great for price shopping and getting low prices. But here’s the thing: most travel consultants will price match anything you find on the internet. And not only will you have the great price point, but you’ll have a living, breathing human being you can ask questions to, make payments to, and get to know. And then next year, when you’re ready to plan your next trip, that human being will remember you. Your travel consultant will know your travel preferences, what you like and dislike, your quirks, and your requirements. She will know that you need gluten free meals on the cruise, she will make sure your frequent flyer number is on your reservation without you asking her to, and she will send a box of chocolate-covered macadamia nuts to your Hawaiian hotel room on your anniversary.
Another common myth is that travel agencies mark up the price and take a cut for themselves. They don’t (or not many of them, at least—which is why you need to make sure you’re going with a reputable agency). Cruise, tour, and air and hotel package companies are the ones who pay agencies a cut, not you. They see the value in having front-line consultants talking about and educating people on their products where they can’t and they’re willing to pay for that.
But if you bought it directly from the cruise line or tour company call center or website, you’d be paying the same price. The only difference is you’d have to call a 1-800 number to get any answers between the time you book and the time you take your actual trip, whereas with a travel consultant, most of the time they’re just a quick email or drive away and you’re sure to experience a lot less hold time.
Most travel agencies do charge a reasonable fee for their services. It’s usually anywhere from nothing to $100 for planning, researching, and putting together your trip—depending on your needs. It’s a nominal fee to pay for assurance that everything is just right for the vacation you’ve been looking forward to for a year or even a lifetime–to help guide you to the specifics of your trip such as destination, accommodations, getting there, when to go—to customize everything according to your personality, preferences, and occasion.
Not to mention the resources available to you when using a consultant that you wouldn’t have access to otherwise, such as tricks and loopholes consultants have learned from experience and daily attention to things like airline price patterns, feedback from previous clients, and in-destination contacts who can help in the case of an emergency.
I once had a customer who needed to get from Puglia to Naples in Italy at the end of a group guided trip to the beginning of a custom independent trip I had put together for them. It’s approximately 3 and a half to 4 hours by car and longer by train. We looked into everything–from planes, buses, trains, and the clients didn’t speak a lick of Italian either. It would have been about three trains connecting through rural areas not populated with tourists or a car rental they didn’t feel comfortable with, having never driven internationally before.
I remembered a person I had met at a conference a few months prior who was a representative for a family-owned company based in Italy and called him up to see if he could help. Not only did he arrange a private driver from doorstep to doorstep for my clients at a reasonable price, but when my travelers returned, they let me know that their driver was a driver by day, independent Italian musician by night. He had given them a free CD of his music and told them all about the places they were passing. It was a personal connection and experience they never could have received without my resources, and it also saved them a lot of trouble traveling through a country they weren’t familiar with.
So if you ever think travel agencies are archaic, unnecessary establishments in today’s day and age—think again. Now more than ever we need someone to filter out the BS, the nonsense, the advertisements and self-interest out there on the internet. Any resort can post Photoshopped pictures on TripAdvisor and Orbitz for the world to see, but only a travel consultant can help you see the real picture. If you want to risk arriving to a mildewed and run-down room in the destination of your dreams, continue surfing the web for the cheapest option. But if you want an experience you’ll never forget and the trip of a lifetime, use a good, detail-oriented travel consultant. I don’t think you’ll regret it.
CAITLYN WITHOUT A COMPASS