Thursday, November 8, 2012

Why You Should Use a Travel Agent

We live in a tech-savvy world.  If you’re reading this blog, you know, at minimum, how to operate a computer and send emails; at best, how to build a computer from scratch and create your own operating system!  So given your knowledge and innate ability to book your entire vacation direct…online…by yourself…why should seek assistance from a travel agent or cruise specialist?

For starters, by booking direct you are actually paying for something you aren't getting: the valuable service, training, and experience of a travel professional.  Surprised?  You see, cruise lines, tour companies, and hotels build commissions into their pricing.  That’s how we get paid.  Some people hold the misguided idea that if you go through a travel agent, you’re paying way more money for the same trip.  Think again.  It’s true that we sometimes add administrative or service fees, but those minimal fees would hardly suffice for making a living.  I’ve had clients who call me when nervously taking that first step into the travel agent world and seem to be holding their breath when asking, “Now, tell us about your fees.  How much do we have to pay you?”  There is a visible release of air when I mention the $20 or $25 per booking service fee, depending on the package. (That fee goes up when adding flights and more complex travel components.)

With that myth dispelled, what are the benefits of working with a professional?  First, you receive the experience and guidance of a knowledgeable travel pro.  Ben and I, for instance, have sailed on 67 ocean or river cruises.  We’ve lived in Italy and traveled all over Europe, the South Seas, Australia/New Zealand, Costa Rica, Canada and parts of South America, not to mention Alaska and Hawaii multiple times.  In cases where an agent like us has not actually visited a particular destination, we’re backed up by the 700+ colleagues in our agency who willingly share their expertise.  We know what we sell.

Second, with a travel agent you will receive an objective opinion as well as proper guidance and documentation for your trip.  We will gladly compare cruise lines and cruise ships within those lines, and the differences between tour companies such as Tauck and Cosmos.  Try getting an unbiased opinion from a single company.  Ask us lots of questions and give us honest answers to your travel style and expectations and the result will be a better matched and much more pleasant travel experience for you. Sometimes, what you “think” you want isn’t really the best fit for you.  We analyze your needs and help guide you accordingly.  That beats entering your credit card number online and receiving no more than a computer generated invoice.  No discussion, no relationship developed, just a booking.  Done.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, with a travel agent you’ll have an advocate.  Someone who will go to bat for you if anything goes awry; who’ll assist you if you must suddenly and unexpectedly get home earlier than planned; who’ll be your go-between to make sure you’re getting the best value for your money.  Ah, can we tell you stories about clients who called us for help: about the couple who missed their departure flight and could not get to the cruise port in time to sail (solution--a private float plane into Vancouver harbor!); about a thunderstorm delaying the departure flight of a mother-daughter flying to Seattle for their cruise (solution--overnight hotel in Seattle, flight to Juneau, and special permission to board there); and another missed flight situation from Ft. Lauderdale that required new flights to Cartegena, Colombia and special government permission for boarding there.  Then there are those health-related situations: the client who experienced a heart attack on the plane just before take-off and the client whose brother became gravely ill requiring an early departure from Barcelona before the ship ever sailed.  All of the above are real life issues that happened to our clients and that we helped solve for them as part of our service!

Travel agents are there for YOU.  We care for you and want you to request our services again.  We worry about you while you’re traveling, especially if we know inclement weather or other situations are looming.  Moreover, we send you stuff!  To the extent of your travel package, we forward materials to enhance your vacation experience.

So, next time you’re considering a cruise or tour package, use a travel professional.  As one new client once stated, “Yeah, I can book my own cruise on the cruise line site, but why should I?  I figure I’ve got better use of my time!”

Happy travels!

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