Saturday, September 27, 2014

They DO Exist!!

There's a commercial that has been running for a few years now around Christmastime that I can relate to. I think it's a cute idea, and other than the fact that it has lost some of it's appeal after playing so many times, it's still one of my favorites. Red and Yellow M&M bump into Santa by the Christmas Tree. The M&Ms yell, "He DOES exist!" and Santa gasps back, "They DO exist!"

This is often how I feel about my profession. When I tell people that I'm a travel agent I often get that reaction. "I didn't know travel agents still existed!" It's true, the perception is that we are a dying breed. I explain that our role is different these days than it used to be. That we are consultants that guide our clients, not just people that book a ticket. It's true, just about anyone can go online and book a flight, a hotel or a package. But what happens before and after that is where travel agents come in.

Since I have had many questions and even some objections to using a travel professional, I thought I would put them all together in a Q&A section. While I'm sure some of these answers are similar to what other agents would give, please understand that I'm speaking from my personal experience and not for all travel agents.

I like doing my own research. I don't mind looking online to find the best destination and resort. 

Great! In this day and age most of my clients do at least some research online before even contacting me. Some continue to do their own research throughout the whole process. Some clients like to have that element of control and that's perfectly fine! Between their research, my research, my knowledge, and my experience we will be planning a great trip without the client ever feeling like it was out of their hands.

My clients can be as involved as they want (or don't want) to be in the planning process. If clients don't have time to spend hours researching, no problem! I got it covered. If they want to give me ideas and their general guidelines and have me take over, that's great. If they want to be in control and have me there for guidance that's fine too.

Also, some clients are perfectly comfortable with the research and planning part, but if something goes wrong with their trip and have no one to call they would freak out! Having someone available to help with any travel issues can give the peace of mind that travelers need for a relaxing trip.

I'm perfectly capable of booking my own trip. 

As I stated above, yes, most people can figure out how to book their own trip online. My job is not clicking buttons on a computer screen. It's really getting to know my clients and what their needs and wants are. It's using my knowledge and experience to match my clients with the best destination, hotel, cruise, or tour to meet their needs. It's finding out if they have food allergies so I can notify the food and beverage manager ahead of time. It's calling the manager of the hotel to let them know my clients are celebrating their anniversary.

Most of my clients don't have hours upon hours to do the research necessary to choose the best travel options for themselves. When you have a water  leak you could spend time online researching how to do plumbing and fix the leak yourself... or you can call a plumber to fix it the right way. You could diagnose yourself on WebMD if you want to, or go to a doctor who know's what he is talking about. I feel like the same thing applies with travel.

I can get a better deal online. 

I don't charge a booking fee for vacation packages. In most cases, you will never be paying me a fee and it will cost the same to book online yourself, or with my expert advice. There are some exceptions to this.

1. Sometimes you will see a lower package price on a discount website. This may be for a run of house room (they will give you the worst room on their property), or a flight that returns home at 6am, cutting your vacation short... or 12 hour layover where you are missing a night at your hotel. When I quote a trip I give you a good flight time, a nice room choice and look for any issues such as having enough time between layovers at busier airports so you don't miss your layover.

2. At times discount sites may have a package that is exactly the same as the one I can offer you, and the cost may be less. In 99% of the cases, my vendors will match it. So, once again, you get the service at the same cost as booking online.

3 Airline tickets. If I book air-only reservations for a client then I have to charge a booking fee. The airlines don't work with travel agents like they used to, so it's necessary to charge. If I have an established client who needs some advice on booking a flight online I'm always happy to help. I continue to be a resource for my loyal clients.

The bottom line: Travel agents are consultants. We listen to your needs, get to know you and help guide you through the planning process. You can be very involved, or hand it all to us.

A lot of agents are independent contractors, home-based and local business owners. By booking through an agent you are supporting your local economy. In return, you get someone to help answer your questions, guide you, help you get upgrades or special treatment and be an advocate for you if something goes wrong.

Travel agents DO exists. We never really went away. We have changed over the years and we will continue to change and grow as the world around us does the same.

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