Forbes Magazine recently had a great article by Doug Gollan about why YOU should use a travel agent. For this blog post I’m going to share some of what they said and give you some examples. I’ve been saying for quite some time what Doug expressed in his article. It really is true that everyone should use a travel agent. Of course that doesn’t mean that every travel agent is good. You need a reputable agent that has the right contacts.
Here is a bit of what Doug wrote explaining how travel has changed since online travel sites first appeared.
It’s a long list, but even back in the Nineties, there were airline delays and bankruptcies throwing the proverbial monkey wrench into travel plans. However, the system had a bit more flexibility. American Airlines used to keep extra aircraft at its hubs as back ups in case of mechanical delays. Not anymore. Remember when if one flight filled up, they would bring out a spare plane so you didn’t have to wait for an extra hour? Airline load factors have increased from the 60% range into the 80s, meaning that flights on popular routes are often sold out for days at a time. Front line employees used to have the ability to grant waivers and favors when you had extra baggage or needed to change a flight. Not so much these days. Hotels and rental car companies were more liberal with their cancellation policies. In many cases, you didn’t have to show your credit card until you showed up. Today, both entities seem to be copying the airlines to make it as onerous as possible for you to change plans. Yes, there are two sides to every story, and they have legitimate reasons for stricter rules, but it is what it is. Good luck trying to get an exception.”
A key reason to use agents is advocacy. In other words, when you use a travel agent, you have somebody who has relationships decision makers at the airlines, hotels, cruises lines and car rental companies you will be traveling with. When something goes sideways, you have somebody to help you out who has more clout than you do. During recent IT meltdowns by Delta Air Lines and British Airways, there were numerous stories about how agents saved the day for their clients getting them routed where they needed to go, and then working to get their customers refunds and credits. At the same time they were rebooking car rentals, calling their friends in the sales department at the hotel to get the penalty for showing up a day late waived, and in some cases getting customers where they were going early. Good agents, sensing trouble and monitoring for disruptions often proactively get you rerouted away from storms and strikes by French air controllers.
Maybe you think you’ll wait until things go badly or you run into problems before you will consider a travel agent. When I asked numerous advisors what they do to attract new customers, most of what I heard is that they currently have as many customers as they can handle. Some aren’t taking new customers. There is only so much time in the day and agents can’t spread themselves too thin and keep customers happy. Good service takes time. In other cases, agents told me they are trying to cull their least profitable clients, pushing them to junior agents they are trying to train. Some agencies are proactively trying to recruit and train new agents to handle increased demand.
If you have a bad flight on Airline X or stay at Hotel Z when you take your business elsewhere, there is no real impact to the supplier. Agents, on the other hand, rely on keeping their profitable clients happy, so the good ones take the time to know you, what you like and what you don’t. That means if you use an agent you are less likely to find yourself in a hotel or on a cruise ship that doesn’t fit your personal tastes. That’s a big plus for suppliers as well. Many complaints you read on review sites such as Trip Advisor are less about the hotel and more about that the hotel wasn’t right for that guest. When there is a service let down, agents who provide a constant flow of revenue, have more clout getting it fixed than you do on your own. In the Travel Market Report research agents said getting you a better room or a room with a better view often impacts which hotel they will book you into when all things are equal. That’s much harder if not impossible to accomplish when you book online.
Hotels typically pay agencies 10 percent commission while tour operators and cruise lines might pay 12 to 20 percent to retail agents. For providers, it’s cheaper than the online sites where the cost of sale can reach above 30%.”
I think all of the above is relevant. That last line is important. Since travel agents get paid less than online sites, the resorts want them more. When there is an issue resorts/airlines try to keep their top travel agents happy. The resorts make more percentage of money on travel agent sales than online sites. Since they don’t want that relationship to go bad, resorts tend to help travel agent clients before online booking clients. If a resort is overbooked, the online booking guests are the first to be sent to another resort. In all the years EM Vacations has been doing business we have never had to move a guests due to overbooked rooms. Sometimes resorts are forced to close (employee strike, hurricane damage, etc). When moving guests to a new resort on a different island resorts take care of their top travel agents first. This recently happened at Sandals resorts after closings were announced from Hurricane Irma. Sandals travel agents were able to change resorts and islands (with change fees waived). Tour operators and online sites are still waiting for approval.
I know many people say “I book travel on my own online and I’ve never had a problem”. That may be true, but you only need to ask family and friends if they have ever had a vacation problem and you’ll likely here many stories. All it takes is one problem and you can be stranded in an airport for days. We’ve heard of people being stranded for over a week at a time. Just remember your chance of making it home if an emergency happens is much higher if you work with a good travel agent.
The sentence Doug wrote above saying how each client is important to a travel agent is true. We rely on referrals and repeat business. To online sites you are just a number. To us, we treat you like family. The relationship we build with our clients is amazing. While we may not hang out at each others homes, a friendship is still formed. We become friends on Facebook. I see our honeymooners buy their first home, have children, and of course follow their vacations. In turn, they follow what I’m up to with my family. I know what vacation destinations are perfect for my clients. I think having a relationship with your travel agent is huge. Think about how many vacations you will take in your lifetime. Now think about how much better it is when you trust you are going to the perfect place and that if you have any problems your travel agent friend is just a text message away.
Since we offer a best price guarantee there is really no reason to risk booking with an online site.
For Doug’s complete article click here.