Who needs Travel Agents?

With the internet having invaded every corner of our lives all travelers must now wonder who needs Travel Agents?

With the internet having invaded every corner of our lives all travelers must now wonder who needs Travel Agents?

Let me get it out there early that I was a Travel Agent in Australia for the past four years, so read what you will in to my thoughts on the subject.

The photos in this post are examples of the research time I would put in to become a better Agent.

It’s just so easy to jump online with one of those giant hotel or airfare aggregator websites and find a place to stay or a cheap way to get there. You might even save a couple of dollars and getting the cheapest price for your holiday is the goal, right?

How much is your holiday worth?

I’m not asking for a dollar amount here or even the number of dollars you think you have saved by booking through several different sites. What I want to know is how much would you sell your travel memories for?

That exact question was posed to a group of trainee Travel Agents including me to try to demonstrate to us the importance of the role.

Think about it for a minute… I’m sure most people would give a quickfire “Hell, yeah!” and respond that they could then travel as much as they wanted to and create new memories. But let’s hold off on that and really think about what you would be giving up.

Remember the time when you were little and you went on the first family camping trip? Or the first time you went on a plane and how exciting it was to see the top of the clouds through a child’s eyes? Your honeymoon or grad trip, or the time you had that amazing meal in that place in France?

Travel Agent research Paris
Travel Agent research Paris

Well, now you don’t remember any of them. Sure you can buy another amazing meal in France with your big payday but you will never have the memories of traveling as a child, or maybe with your children when they were young. That’s a lot to lose.

The point they made, and I make now, is that it is more important to come home from a vacation with incredible memories than it is to come home with a few extra dollars in your pocket. And a good travel Agent is in the business of helping you create those memories.

Travel Agent research Mexico
Travel Agent research Mexico

Do you need a Travel Agent to book flights?

After that is said and done you may be starting to think this is nothing more than an advertorial piece on the virtues of using an Agent. Let me tell you now that I feel they still have great value but do not need to be used in every case.

Travel Agent research Hawaii
Travel Agent research Hawaii

If I am looking for some quick flights then I would be just as likely to book online as I would to see an Agent for the ticket purchase, purely for the convenience of doing it without moving away from my computer. But a few things you may not know about booking airfares…

  • most online booking sites are simply travel agencies themselves. They claim cheaper prices through lower overheads but that isn’t very often the case.
  • many online booking sites still charge a booking fee that may be hidden until you get to the final payment screen, after you have taken the time to give them all of your details.
  • the big name “bricks and mortar” agencies often get wholesale fares which do not show up for other companies. These fares can be cheaper than the online sites.
  • most online agencies can not handle more complex flight routes like open jaw options and stopovers.

Even when I was an Agent I booked myself the occasional flight online (sometimes against the best interest of my employer) and it was an area I was happy to save some money. After all, flights are just a mode of transport that most of us have to suffer through to get to the good bits. Unless you are looking to upgrade I want a nice balance of cost vs speed to get the best value.

Travel Agent research Mexico
Travel Agent research Mexico

Why would you book hotels through a Travel Agent?

There have been plenty of times when I have booked accommodation online simply because my preferred type of travel is a loosely planned road trip, but I would use an Agent almost every time when it comes to places I don’t know well but I do know the exact dates I will be there.

Last year we spend three weeks in the USA and Mexico, mostly a road trip but we did want a few days in a very nice All-inclusive. Last minute and on the road hotels are always booked online by me obviously but I want to get the advice from someone who has been there when it comes to Cancun.

Travel Agent research Penang
Travel Agent research Penang

The Agents I worked with were able to tell me why I should stay in a certain area, which Resort was best for my needs and use a travel wholesaler who could offer a Stay / Pay deal at the right Resort. You don’t often see the Stay 7 and pay for 4 type offers online but big wholesalers get them all the time with the massive bargaining power they have.

Did you know that most of the Resorts in Asia offer many 2 for 1 stay / pay deals through Travel Agents?

Another good example I have of when to use an Agent and when to book online is from our Christmas trip at the end of 2015. We wanted to give ourselves the best chance of a White Christmas so after some of my own research and the advice of the Agents I worked with, I booked a 3 day package in Salzburg through the Agency.

While I knew we would be in Paris for New Year’s Eve and wanted a view from our room of the Eiffel Tower. Now Hotels in Paris are never cheap and the few that have Tower views are very high priced. Once you throw NYE in to the equation then the prices become ridiculous. So we needed an option away from the Travel Agency.

We had used AirBnB in the past with varying degrees of success but our first Paris apartment had been incredible. After 3 or 4 failed attempts at booking a room with a view we finally found one that suited us perfectly. The view ended up being quite good but the apartment never lived up to its billing. But that’s another story and suffice to say we did get the main criteria covered.

Travel Agent research NZ
Travel Agent research NZ

Travel Agents… huh… good God y’all… what are they good for?

A good Travel Agent is more than a person who books your holiday. They earn their money I can assure you! Most of them that I know are caring professionals who work for a lot less money than you would think, but I have 7 reasons why you keep a good Travel Agent…

  1. They are held accountable
    If something goes wrong on your trip that should have been handled by the Agent then you have a point of contact to go back to for a solution. A transfer didn’t show up for you and you had to pay for a taxi? Let them know and they arrange the refund. No frustration and desperation trying to find the company contact you booked online.
  2. They have widespread knowledge and a great support team
    Do you really want to spend 100 hours sifting through search results on the Internet? Or would you love to be able to tell someone exactly what you want and let them guide you? There reputation is on the line so it is not only good business for them to get it right but they probably love doing it as well.
  3. They can offer the “PLUS ONE”
    So you booked flights and a hotel online, well done! Did it tell you about a great little Cafe about a block away from the Hotel? Did the Internet mention that the Gallery you said you wanted to see had FREE entry on Wednesdays? This is a PLUS ONE, a personal bit of information aimed at making your trip great.
  4. They can make sense of a big itinerary
    This one is my specialty. If you have a list of things to do and places to see you can book it all online but a good Agent can work your itinerary in to the best possible plan to maximise your enjoyment and minimise the bits that can be annoying, like time in airports and moving Hotels too often.
  5. They can get you the best for your budget
    How often have you had Champagne tastes on a Beer budget? A good Agent can work out where you can cut costs without ruining the trip and also suggest where those savings should be spent to make it as special as possible.
  6. They can save you a lot of time
    Travel Agents get paid to research and know where and when the best time and place is for your trip. I’m not saying don’t do some research of your own but wouldn’t you rather be reading about the fun things to do and the amazing sights you will witness than be spending time checking flight schedules and reading hotel reviews?
  7. They give you a single point of contact
    We all know that things can go wrong when we travel. It’s what happens after the fact that can influence your memories of the experience. You can go around in circles trying to reach an actual person to speak to at an online booking centre, if you can remember which of the five different places you used to book the trip it was for this one thing, or you can go back to the Agent that booked your trip and is your one stop shop for getting things sorted out.

I am no longer a Travel Agent because I stopped loving the job. The pressure is high, the hours are long and the wages are depressingly low, but that emphasises to me that if you find a good one then don’t throw them aside for the chance to save a few bucks on your next trip. They are worth their weight in golden memories.

Travel Agent research Oregon
Travel Agent research Oregon

I would like to make a small side note and mention that several times I have referenced “good agents”. It is important to find someone you trust, feel comfortable with and like because the wrong Agent can be far worse than anything you can done by yourself online. And the bad ones definitely exist, I have met quite a few.

So next time you think about booking the family holiday online maybe ask yourself one little question… How much is your holiday worth to you?

Do you use a Travel Agent or go it alone? Let us know which way you prefer to arrange your trips and why, I’m sure we have some interesting opinions.

14 COMMENTS

  1. I think families on vacations are the ones who are most likely to benefit from getting the service of a travel agent because of all the ease and convenience it offers… I think the rest of your points are interesting, I just wish it’s applicable to everywhere else. In my home country (the Philippines), travel agents aren’t necessarily more knowledgeable about a location. More often than not they’re just there to book accommodations and tours and there’s so many travel agencies here but only few that are accountable. 🙁

    • It is interesting how each country sees the use of travel agents. Here in Australia, and as you mention the Philippines, they still book a huge percentage of travel but in places like USA they are viewed more as someone who just charges money to do something you can do for yourself.

  2. I would love to use a travel agent but since I travel all the time, I’m really good at it. And I’m picky. The few times I do use an agent (for super-big trips) I am usually really happy. So I guess, I sometimes can justify the costs but not always.

    • It really does depend on the individual and what they are planning to do Andrea. Even though I have always been a planner and researcher, like you, there are times when an agent is a more sensible option. It is the people who don’t plan and research enough but then book everything online through ten different sites, have a miserable time because they are disorganised but still somehow think they “won” because they saved a few dollars that make me laugh. Know your limitations and like I said… “how much is a great vacation worth?”

  3. I usually plan my own travels simply because I enjoy the planning aspects of a travel as much as the travel itself. However, I have used the services of a travel agent for a few of my travels, especially when I was concerned about safety issues in a particular country and preferred a trusted travel agent to organize the logistics and itinerary around the key places I wanted to visit.

    • You make a very good point Ahila. A good agent should always be able to get the best advice when safety is of any concern.
      It looks like a common theme is developing that travel bloggers all love doing their own travel research. No surprise there I suppose.

  4. We usually do all of our own research and booking. The research is part of the fun, so why not? Having said, that we have used travel agents from time to time because they could get better deals on package trips, especially in Asia.

    • I agree that research is fun most of the time but I have also met a lot of people that just pick a place and want someone else to do all the work Jim. Asia is definitely worth checking in with an agent, especially for a Resort stay.

  5. It’s really interesting to read how much effort and time some travel agents put into creating an itinerary. I don’t think I’ve ever used a travel agent as I’ve always preferred to research and travel independently, but I have plenty of older relatives who always use them to help create the perfect itinerary for that special trip. #TheWeeklyPostcard

    • Obviously there are also travel agents that just want to get the person out as quickly as possible and take their money Clare. And I know a few of them. But I think most are keen to help make the traveler’s trip the best it can be. There is no right or wrong way to book travel. Just as long as you go somewhere.

  6. Many people I know surely need a travel agent to help them with travel arrangements and give them destination ideas. Some are incapable of making their own research and they trust an agent knows better. Others, because they simply don’t have the time to do it and they prefer to have it served on a platter. But if you think about it, who is going to have your best interest at heart when it comes to traveling? YOU! So no travel agent can beat me when it comes to airfare deals, hotel reservations, itineraries, best routes to take to get somewhere and so on and so forth. It’s true though that I put a tremendous amount of research into it, but I get a lot satisfaction too.

    • That’s a valid point to consider Anda. If you love doing the research and have the time then no point involving someone else. The main reason I never became a top selling Agent is that I wanted to research more than sell. I treated everyone’s trip as though it was my own. Clients loved me but my employer expected more sales for my time. It’s nothing for me to put at least 150 hours research in to a 4 week trip for my family.

  7. We have used travel agents and then at times we book on our own. For us, taking the time out of having to book each hotel, transfer and activity is a big reason we use them. Secondly, having a point of contact while we are traveling gives us peace of mind especially to help with resolving issues and booking restaurant reservations. It comes down to cost and their ability to work with us to customize a trip. We understand the hours it takes and travel agents need to make money however the benefits are not worth thousands of dollars to us.

    • At my first interview to become a Travel Agent I was asked how I expected to sell travel when I booked a lot of my own direct or online. My answer was that we shouldn’t expect to be booking everything for everybody but just to do the best we can when asked and to show that not only is it often better to have someone you can talk to face to face but often they have the same or better prices than the online Agencies. And of course they have to represent value for your money.

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