There was a time when travel agents were the gatekeepers of our dream vacations. Their inside knowledge of all things travel, networks of industry contacts and access to exclusive deals were (and still are) indispensable to the everyday traveller. But to book a trip these days, whether for business or pleasure, we hardly even have to pick up the phone, let alone leave our homes. Travel has evolved in such a way that our journeys begin right from our own desktops or mobile devices.
Today’s breed of tech-assisted, autonomous travellers take control of their trips long before the plane even touches the ground at the destination. The tips-of-our-fingers access we enjoy with our travel agendas has revolutionized how we explore the world. And yet, despite all the choices at our disposal, travel agents and advisors have continually proven their relevance and stayed competitive in the industry.
The pitfalls of being your own travel agent
Booking flights, accommodation, rental vehicles, tours or activities and creating detailed itineraries has never been easier for us travellers—or more challenging, depending on whom you ask. Thanks to the multitude of trip-planning tools and apps on the market, most of us have become our own personal travel agents, for better or for worse!
But an argument can also be made against this oversaturated travel market, which can lead to the phenomenon known as decision fatigue. This is the tendency for consumers to make poor decisions when faced with too many choices and a tedious decision-making process. Just like other fields that rely heavily on tech, there’s plenty of room for information overload in the world of travel.
This is where travel agents in 2018 and beyond come into the picture. They’ve made a resurgence (surprisingly, among millennials) in an age where technology has seemingly made them obsolete. While trip-planning with Google and other Google-like products has become the new norm, travellers are still finding their way to travel agencies despite other resources at their disposal.
Leaving travel-planning to the travel experts
Unless you’re a seasoned traveller with a tried-and-tested strategy, it might be worth it to outsource trip-planning to an agency, or at least turn to them for advice. After all, this is their full time job. Travel advisors know the tricks of the trade and are on top of the latest trends. Information is delivered to them through channels and relationships they’ve built over time with various airlines, cruise travel, train companies, resorts and vacation rentals, excursion companies and others.
A good travel expert will be in the know about current events, natural disasters and even the socio-political climate of destinations. Agents can also be a useful resource for relevant information such as required travel visas, travel vaccinations and religious restrictions or social etiquette in places we’ve never visited before. They’re also skilled at handling specialized bookings. This includes boutique or niche travel experiences, honeymoons and destination weddings, family cruises, multigenerational travel for families and groups, and luxury travel. Even complex multi-date, multi-stop itineraries with various airports and transfers in the equation aren’t unusual tasks for agents.
And while it’s still good practice to do a bit of your own research prior to travelling, the ultimate goal of working with a travel agent is to make the decision-making process more efficient for the traveller.
No substitute for customer service
When online travel agencies (OTAs) like Expedia, Orbitz, Kayak, Booking.com and others entered the picture, people predicted the end of ‘offline’ travel agencies. While there was a measurable decline in the last two decades, travel agents (and the need for them) never really went away. The problem with OTAs is that they give a one-size-fits-all solution to travellers, and for many of those travellers, this is enough. But as you and I can both attest, every traveller is unique, with unique travel needs!
What’s lacking from the DIY experience with OTAs comes down to the human element. No matter how advanced AI technology gets, or how many algorithm improvements flight search engines roll out, there’s just no substitute for the level of customer service travellers receive from living, breathing representatives who understand their individual needs. Travel agents bring a much-needed empathetic presence in situations that require a little bit of problem-solving:
- A good agent will be your advocate in times of travel trouble (e.g. weather delays), the way trip cancellation and trip interruption insurance helps you for unforeseen events.
- If you’ve ever had to extend or cut your trip short, you’ve probably experienced being ping-ponged back and forth between customer service reps from the OTA you booked with, and the customer service reps from the airline carrier you picked. A good agent will make accountability that much clearer.
- Travel-planning involves many moving pieces outside of the trip itself, and a good agent will do their best to tailor-fit those variables to you.
Time saved and value earned
A common misconception about travel agents is that you pay much more in commission than you do if you were to book things yourself. While there may be service fees involved, depending on the agency, this is typically smaller in cost compared to the past. That’s because they have to remain competitive. As the travel industry evolved with technology, so too did the business model that travel agents operate under.
For the most part, fees are actually collected from vendors (e.g., airlines, tours, hotels and rental agencies), usually at no additional cost to the traveller. In fact, it’s also because of this relationship with vendors that the travel agent is able to save you money on any given booking, through bulk discounts, exclusive promotions or deals, or even perks like upgrades and free reservations for tours and events.
Sometimes, the best-value decision you make isn’t merely based on the lowest ticket price. Other factors belong to the mix and should be equally considered. So even if you end up paying marginally more by consulting a travel agent, you certainly make bank on the value he or she can offer you.
Good travel isn’t just about affordability; it’s also as much about comfort and peace of mind for the one on the go (travel insurance plays a big role in this as well). With all the choices at our feet, we have more freedom than ever to travel the world the way we want. But who’d want to spend more time planning a trip than actually enjoying it? Travel agents may not be for every type of traveller out there, but there will always be a need for them. They’re an invaluable tool and resource that can help us all maximize our worldly experiences the way we were meant to.
Care to share your tips and experiences trip-planning with travel agents? Comment below!