The Airlines Reporting Corporation (ARC) recently reported that there are 9,386 travel agents operating in the US alone. That’s an awful lot! But what do they offer the consumer that the consumer cannot do on their own? Also, as the internet becomes an increasingly more powerful tool in the world of travel, and everything is at the touch of a finger, are the days of the modern day travel agent limited? Let’s take a look
Local Knowledge: You can’t underestimate the power of local knowledge! For any HSBC customers, you might have heard that phrase before; however there is some truth in it. Good travel agents will know your travel destination like the back of their hand. They will know the intricacies of putting a successful tour together that works in your chosen destination. For example: when putting together a tour in Peru I consider how altitude will affect the client and the route of the tour, or how seasonal weather could affect cancellations of afternoon flights. These small details are hard to know, if you are travelling independently.
Special Rates on your Hotels: Your travel agent will have special rates on most hotels in your chosen destination. Hotels operate different pricing structures based on who you are, and they typically break them down into three categories: rack, corporate and travel agency rates. Rack rates are what independent travellers pay, and are the full rate. Travel agents have pre-agreed confidential tariffs with the hotel, and are often in excess of 40-50% discount, over rack rates. So think about it! If a travel agent makes a saving of $50 per night on a 10 days vacation, that represents a saving of $500. In many cases the saving is actually quite a lot more! Of course special rates also apply to tours, flights, transfers, food and transport.
Local Representation: In most cases you travel agent will have a local operator who you can call on should you need them. Perhaps assistance with changing your tour, complaining about something you are not happy with or perhaps assistance with translation in a medical emergency.
Convenience: Simply many people do not have the time to plan a complex vacation. Travel agents are there to offer a professional service, so that you don’t have to worry.
Stability: Just like all areas of business, every now and then companies run out of cash, and travel agencies are no exception. Travel agents handle large amounts of your cash every day, and only careful management of your funds mean that travel agents keep their business afloat. Be sure that you travel agent is in good working order, before you hand over your hard earned cash.
Limited Flexibility: Only very good travel agents can customize a tour to meet your specific requirements. Many high street travel agents only have standard packages in their arsenal, and may try and persuade you to take something they want you to have, rather than what you want. Only true destination specialists can get you what you want.
Hidden Fees / Or Not Telling the Whole Truth: As a travel agent, for me, it is vitally important to be open and honest about the complete package that I am selling. For example: what flights are included, what are level of accommodations, what meals are included, what entrance fees are included, and the list goes on and on. Often, when a client says to me, “I like you, and I like the tour you have put together, but you know I can buy the same thing a lot cheaper from another agent..”, I ask them to send me the quotation for comparison. Often, it is clear that the cheaper quote has not included internal flights, or is not specifying which 4 star hotel the clients are staying in, or they consider meals as optional extras. Unfortunately, this is common practice for many travel agents who are trying to show rock bottom prices. Only once you have paid your deposit does the whole truth become clear. Read you quotation properly, understand it, and ask as many questions as you see fit.
There are many more pros and cons to consider when making your choice, but at the end of the day it is really up to the consumer to decide what suits them best.
Go with quality over price (within reason), make the agent work for you and make sure that they are in good financial standing. With these things in mind, you really shouldn’t have any worries!
Paul P. Jones