There’s been a bit of blogger buzz these past few weeks about whether or not, in this age of being able to book travel from a device in our pockets, travel agents are still useful. You might say, “Travel agents are so 80’s”, but I think you’d be selling yourself short. Because I have cousins who are longtime travel agents, and do a ton of travel as well, I decided to pose some questions to one of them. Some of the questions are similar to what other bloggers have been asking of travel agents, but some are different. And even if you’ve made up your mind about the usefulness of travel agents, do go to the end of this post where I’ll tell you about how my travel agent cousin saved me both money and time in New Zealand! So, are travel agents still useful? Let’s find out!
General Travel Trends
Shelli: Which destinations are people most asking about these days?
Corkie: Iceland & Japan are way up in requests.
S: Which airline are people liking LEAST right now?
C: There are so many, I can’t pinpoint just one. Service levels are down all around, especially in coach. Airlines are banking on their Business class to put them in the black. Except for British Airways! For some reason, British Airways places every other row in Business Class facing backwards.
S: Which airline, if any, are people raving about right now?
C: Singapore always gets high marks. Norwegian Air pumps more oxygen throughout their cabins helping ease jet lag.
S: Most of your clients fly in which class of service, econ/business/first?
C: Most are in business – especially internationally. Very few carriers have a First Class anymore. And if they do, they are private suites.
Travel Agents and the Internet
S: How has the Internet changed your job as a travel agent?
C: My clients value service and the extra amenities we get for them when booking one of the Virtuoso or Travel Leaders Select hotels. Breakfast is always included, at the minimum. Clients often send me what they’ve found on the internet and 9 times out of 10, I can get the same price with the amenities they can’t find online. So it’s a win-win. And as I tell my clients, you have no voice on the internet. If something goes wrong, we have tools at our fingertips that can help.
S: As the use of the internet for travel has changed, how have your clients changed? Do they want different things than before? Is it always about shopping for the best price?
C: My clients are used to a high level of service. They want a hotel that’s at least as good as what they have at home. They may troll the internet, but they will then send me what they’ve found as a comparison to what I can get. Service level is the key.
S: There are many myths associated with travel agents and they are stereotypically associated with an older demographic. Does this hold true for your clientele?
C: I have younger clients now who grew up with me as their travel consultant and use me, and whose parents still use me. They know the level of service I can provide and the insider deals I can get. With others, it’s usually their parents who advised them to call me. I also have access to “on-sites” – local tour companies in our network who offer us insider tours and activities you can’t find on the internet. These interest the younger crowd. For instance, a private gin tasting with the leading micro-distiller in London, or lunch with Julian Fellowes’s niece, Jessica, who was on the set of Downtown Abbey and wrote two books about the series, or a private concert with Andrea Bocelli. You won’t find these on the internet.
S: There are so many Online Travel Agencies (OTA) now, such as Expedia, Orbitz, and Priceline. This makes people think using a travel agent isn’t necessary. Obviously you feel this isn’t true.
C: Yes, that’s untrue. We are more popular now than ever. OTA’s may offer cheaper rates, but they come at a cost – like non-refundable purchases, no changes allowed. With hotels, the room type isn’t the best. It may say it’s a deluxe room with a view, but chances are that view will be obstructed or close to the elevator with lots of noise. These are the less-desirable rooms in every hotel that they don’t usually sell to the U.S. market.
S: When people do book their own travel, what are some of the mistakes you see them making?
C: Booking the absolutely lowest rate room and expecting to be upgraded to a suite. It’s important to be reasonable in your expectations. Another mistake is not checking over their itinerary to be sure everything is correct. Read it when you get it in your inbox. Waiting too long to advise the booking agent that the wrong date was booked and/or ticketed. Don’t wait – call immediately. When you do use a travel agent, recognize that we can do a lot, but we’re not miracle workers. Again, be reasonable in your expectations. Be honest with us if you’re just looking for a quick quote on an airfare or a cruise or if you’re already holding space thru another agency.
S: For people that love points and miles travel, how can working with a travel agent help them get even more value?
C: I charge for my time in assisting with mileage tickets as generally I’ll be on hold for an hour or more waiting to see if they have enough points and attempting to book their flights. I don’t mind doing this for my clients as their time, as well as mine, is valuable. I also advise strategies to get the most bang for their buck with their miles and points.
So, are travel agents still useful? From my own experience, travel agents do still serve a great purpose. As promised, here’s my experience in New Zealand and how my travel agent cousin saved my butt. Corkie reserved me a car to pick up at the airport in Auckland. The flight was long and I was tired. I thought I remembered the name of the car rental company and didn’t check my notes. I went to the rental desk and said to the agent, “Do you have a car for me?” He asked for my name, said yes, and maybe 30 minutes later we were on our way to our destination 3 hours away. I got to my lodging and after settling in, went for a hike and for dinner. Upon arriving back at my lodge, the owner said to me, “You got a call from Beverly Hills!” The lodge owner was thinking I’m someone famous or special, right? But it was my travel agent cousin calling me to see why I picked up the wrong car from the wrong company!!?? Long story short, my travel agent arranged it so I did not have to drive all the way back to Auckland right away. Instead she arranged for me to drop off the car when I’d be passing through Auckland the next week, and in the end Corkie went to bat for me so I didn’t have to pay extra for the mistake I’d made. Now you might say, “Well she’s your cousin, of course she helped you out.” But I’ve known her a long time, and seen her succeed in a challenging business climate and know that she would have gone to bat for any of her clients. That’s what having a professional on your team means.
Travel agents do save people time and money, and that’s important. In this New Zealand case, a travel agent saved me a lot of both! So whether or not you currently use a travel agent, don’t rule them out. No matter how advanced our technology is, or how transparent travel seems on the internet, there’s always room for that human touch. As Corkie says, it’s the little extras that often make a difference. I’ve definitely found that to be true. Do you ever use a travel agent? Has an agent ever saved your butt the way Corkie saved mine in New Zealand? Let me know!
P.S. If you need a travel agent, please send Corkie an email or call her at 310-691-7432.