Years ago, when you wanted to go on vacation, there was only one option. You had to hoof it down to your local travel agency and browse through some travel brochures. Then, when you made your selection, you’d sit across the desk from your travel agent (in a very uncomfortable chair) while they entered all the information on their green monochrome computer screen. Travel agents were the keepers of all travel information. Their life was the stuff of dreams. We imagined they had been everywhere and knew everything about world travel. They were the rock stars of the retail world.
Then, a few things happened. First, the airlines decided they didn’t need travel agents anymore and they pulled the plug on agent commissions. This didn’t work out so well for the airlines as evidenced by the number of them who went under in the aftermath. Many agencies refused to sell airline tickets without receiving a commission. Why should they work for free? So, things began to change from what had once been a very structured agency model governed by the ARC (Airlines Reporting Commission) into an industry that was evolving into something new.
Then, the second thing happened. The advent of the internet connection changed the face of travel forever. Information is readily available 24 hours a day about any aspect of travel you can imagine – from luxury yacht trips in the South Pacific to staying at a youth hostel in Europe. Whatever your budget or interest, the internet can open up a whole new world of options available to you for travel.
However, with the plethora of information now available to consumers, is there still a need for the travel agent? Can’t consumers just figure this all out on their own now? I suppose they could try. But, why would they want to? Travel agents offer the benefit of their expertise in dealing day in and day out with travel suppliers. They still hold the “secret knowledge” of the travel business, just in a different way now. Plus, the services of a travel agent are usually free to consumers, as agents are paid commissions by suppliers.
In all honesty, consumers need travel agents now more than ever before. In the past, there was so little information available to consumers that they were at the mercy of the travel agent to get any of it. Now, there is so much information available to consumers, they’re often left floundering in the sea of travel offers. Travel agents are skilled at cutting through the hype and emotion-driven marketing of suppliers. They have learned how to match travelers with vacations they will treasure.
In the wake of the home-based business revolution, many travel agents have moved their businesses to their homes. This is a good thing for consumers in that it allows for much more personalized service. Agents usually have extended hours when they’re home-based, making it more convenient to get in touch with them. And often, agents will come right to your home equipped with their laptop and brochures.
The smart travel agents have embraced technology and are using it to provide better service to their clients. Most travel suppliers are riding the technology wave too and are providing wonderful online resources available only to travel agents. The information age has educated not only the consumer, but has given travel agents powerful tools to provide superior customized service to their clients. With this type of customization, you can receive targeted travel promotions only for the destinations you’re interested in. This service alone can help cut down on information overload. You only receive information that’s of interest to you.
Another benefit of using an agent is that you have an advocate once you’re on your vacation. If anything goes wrong or things aren’t as they were promised, your agent will be your advocate to the travel supplier to try to get things corrected and made right. Just give your agent a call and let them try to sort the problem out. Don’t spend valuable vacation time in frustration. Suppliers know that if they don’t treat their clients right, agent won’t promote their products. Suppliers work hard to maintain a good rapport with the travel agent community. Word travels fast about suppliers who won’t take care of problems. However, if you don’t have an agent, you won’t have the benefit of any extra leverage your agent could provide in correcting a problem.
So, go ahead and spend some time on the internet gathering information for your next vacation. Peruse the vastness of cyberspace hunting for that perfect vacation. However, when it comes time to book your reservation, give your travel agent a call. They’ll be able to determine if what you’ve selected will meet your expectations. If they think it won’t, they’ll recommend something else you might like better. And most likely … they’ll be right and you’ll end up having a fantastic vacation!
Lorraine Grant is a former travel agent and is currently a travel writer for Going Green Travel [http://www.goinggreentravel.com], a site that offers reviews of environmentally-friendly travel destinations. Click here to read her latest report.