Do You Need a Travel Agent?
The travel business was already confusing, misunderstood and
complicated, thanks in part to advances in computer technology.
And now with the horrific events of September 11, 2001, the
travel industry is in a state of chaos the likes of which
we have never seen before.
In the coming weeks, as the travel industry gets back on solid
footing, consumers will be inundated with choices like never
before. And thatís where a good travel agent comes to the
rescue. Itís virtually impossible for the average consumer
to keep up with myriad of travel options. Not only are the
airlines drastically reducing their prices, airline prices
change literally thousands of times a day, and thatís not
You have several hundred tourism operators offering to sell
you every possible combination of air, hotel, auto and cruise
package to destinations you never even heard of. You have
passport and visa requirements, travel insurance, and complicated
itineraries to deal with. When is the best time to travel?
Whatís there to do when you get to your destination? How do
you get around? How do you handle your money or the language
barrier? Starting to get the picture?
A good travel agent will ferret through the barrage of information
that might take you weeks to figure out. Travel agents have
changed the way they do business over the past five years
in one very important way. They have become specialists. Itís
virtually impossible to be an expert on travel to all parts
of the world. As a result, many travel agents have become
niche providers focusing on the Caribbean, Africa, Asia, the
South Pacific and Europe.
Some focus on adventure travel, others on cruising. Most travel
agents have visited places or taken the very trip you are
planning. When searching for a travel agent itís important
to figure out where their area of expertise lies.
Iíve got friends who have two or three travel agents. Some
of the larger travel agencies have agents who specialize in
different areas to give you a one-stop shopping of sorts to
keep your business. Even though the airlines have cut commissions
they pay to travel agents, travel agents can still be useful
in finding discount bargains on air travel.
In fact, many travel agents have what is called "secret override
commissions" or "preferred supplier" agreements with the airlines.
These are monetary incentive agreements above and beyond the
normal commission structure to get travel agents to send business
to a particular airline. Itís important to ask this question
when shopping for a travel agent. Be warned, a travel agent
may shuttle you to one of these preferred suppliers so the
agent can make a higher commission rather than save you money.
Most cruises these days are booked through a travel agent
with the blessing of the cruise line industry.
Those "secret override commissions" or "preferred supplier"
agreements exist with cruises as well, but unlike the airline
industry; these agreements can actually save you time and
money. I would strongly recommend using a travel agent instead
of calling the cruise line direct.
A travel agent will be more focused on your individual needs
and can help you with visa requirements, trip cancellation
insurance, shore excursions and provide you with tour guides
and special services at different ports. Is there a time when
you wouldnít use a travel agent? YES. I fly to Washington
DC several times a month. These are relatively uncomplicated
itineraries that I just book online. If you book airfare seven-days
in advance, which for the most part I do, cheap fares are
easy to find.
As members of the news media, you are entitled to fly at a
special media rate, which many airlines offer, but the travel
agent wonít have access to. Call the airlineís press or public
relations office to get that information. In some cases youíll
be directed back to the reservations line, but at least ask.
Before booking the media rate check around to see if thereís
something cheaper. Finally, itís important to let your travel
agent know if you had a good or bad experience while on vacation.
If thereís a problem, you need to let them know. In many cases,
they can got to bat for you and resolve a conflict with an
airline, cruise line, hotel or tour operator. If you had a
good time left them know that as well. Travel agents put their
reputations on the line and your repeat business is very important
to them. Without you, they have no business.