Sunday, 24 February 2019

Agent vs Online

Book Your Travel Online.

Huh?  Did I really just  say that?  Not only say it out loud but actually put it in writing?  Me... someone who has dedicated their career to upholding the benefits of using a travel consultant?  Yup, I sure did! You have to know that I'm not going to just leave it at that simple statement.  I need to explain WHY I'm saying go ahead and book your own travel online.

How many times have you heard someone say to you any of the following:

  • Oh you should go to XYZ, it's amazing and you'd love it!
  • We stayed at the ABC hotel and it was the best ever!
  • Don't fly with that airline.  They delayed our travel for 2 hours and they are the worst.
  • This is a great cruiseline.  The kids has so much fun ziplining across the pool and trying the flo-rider.

Everyone seems to think they can research the best experience or that they know better.  Opinions and experiences from friends and family or random unknown people on sites such as tripadvisor are really great to give you some direction.  Truly they great to give an overview and set you on a path BUT...that's where it ends.  There is so much more to crafting the perfect holiday and checking off boxes (known as aggregates) can not possibly replace the human connection and intuition. My new favorite mantra is:

"Please don't think that your google search will ever replace my 30 years of education, knowledge and experience."

In this current day and age when everything is available at your fingertips or news is spread like wildfire through social media, an incredible (read: overwhelming) amount of information is right there with a few key strokes.

Let's say as an example, that you are thinking about going on an all-inclusive holiday.  You do a google search typing in "the best all inclusive resorts".  Google proceeds to do it's thing and comes up with 121 MILLION options (no exaggeration) for suggestions of "the best all inclusive resorts".  Don't believe me about the 121 Million results?  Try it for yourself but I've also included a screenshot for the nay sayers. 

Seriously? 121,000,000 - how can there possibly be THAT many of THE best?  Who has time to go through all those options and start weeding through the seemingly limitless possibilities?  Certainly not your average traveler and I'd venture to say not even an extraordinary traveler! 

Que the experienced travel consultant to the rescue!  It's our job to filter through the noise and by working with the client, by asking questions that lend us insight we begin to narrow the options to ones that are geared to fit that particular client.  We can help define what your ideal vacation looks like and then find the appropriate solutions.  With a simple conversation we are able to quickly garner what it is you want from your holiday.  Is it relaxation or do you want non-stop nightlife? Maybe there is a focus on well-being? Do you want adventure, are you looking for exceptional culinary experiences or are you a history buff? Maybe you have a love for architecture or are celebrating a milestone life event?  There is no one perfect holiday that is suited to everyone.  No one size fits all vacation package.  What your friend said was the worst, may very well be an ideal option based on your own needs.  Or, that cruiseline your co-worker's sister-in-law went with may have been great for her family with teenage boys but may not be something the next person would enjoy when their image is of a smaller, more intimate ship with casual but elegant service as they celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary.  The point is that everyone has a different vision, different needs, different expectations and it is our job to provide options based on all this criteria.  Our goal is to offer a much more manageable number of ideas rather than 121 million that google suggests as THE best for your holiday.

Can you book your own travel online?  Sure - of course you can... and you may very well have a wonderful vacation!  By the same token you can also google your medical symptoms!  WebMD may take that ache or pain, turn it into full blown doom and gloom and will have you quickly getting your affairs in order as it suggests you have a serious, life ending condition.  Is your google search really a replacement for seeking medical advise and attention?  Or what about doing your own taxes?  Can you do those yourself?  Certainly, by all means you can do your own taxes and you may even net a decent refund in the end!  Is there any possibility that you might actually miss out on what could have been an even greater refund?  Absolutely!  There is no way that someone who does a handful of taxes each year can possibly know as much as a professional who deals with this on a daily basis.  It is very unlikely that you know all the tax benefits, loopholes, credits etc.  On all accounts, I think it's best left to the pros!

Now I can hear it already!  Someone will say "But I can get a better deal online"Well ...actually you can't! The price, is the price, is the price.  The airline, cruiseline, tour operator, hotel/resort, car rental provides the pricing to us, the travel agent. We sell the product at exactly the same rates you would find online. <gasp> Really?  How can that be?  How ever would you stay in business?  Well, it's simple system and on as old as time.  They pay us a commission to sell their product.  To elaborate further, that commission whether paid to us or not, would not change the selling price to you, the client, regardless of where or how you book (directly with the tour operator, airline, online, storefront travel agency, or home based agent) the pricing will all be the same.  

Not to keep beating the same drum but..... if a Sunwing package to Mexico is $1249 including taxes per person through any online travel agency (more on that later) or directly on the tour operator website then you can be 100% assured that this is the price a travel agency will also sell it to the client for.  Most people do not realize that the Big Dogs - the Expedias or Redtags of the world  - are simply travel versions... but still travel agencies all the same.  Yes, they are "online" rather than storefront or homebased but all that means is that you have to do everything online and you can never have a face-to-face conversation even if you wanted to.  They, like every other travel agency, sell the packages that are provided by the tour operators at the price the tour operators set. Again, don't believe me?  The proof is in the pudding!

As travel consultants, we have not just our own extensive personal travel experience from which to draw on but also feedback from thousands of clients.  We are also able to utilize a variety of tools that are not always available to the average consumer. We bring added value by being able to plan activities in destination, knowing the better seat on the aircraft, or maybe even being able to arrange a special upgrade or surprise during that cruise or resort stay.  Travel agents are trained to examine the fine details, to look for gaps and provide solutions that fit.  Travel is unique and there should be nothing cookie cutter about your buying experience.

And how many times have you had something go off the rails with your travel plans?  A missed connection, a flight delay, cancellation due to weather, an emergency?  Yes, that's life and life isn't always perfect.  Things do happen that are sometimes out of our control (out of your control as a traveler as well as mine as an agent).  That said, would you prefer to go it alone because you did your own arrangements or know that there is someone in your corner helping out as best they can?  As I type this on a Sunday afternoon, I chuckle to myself - not because I find flight cancellations or problems entertaining - it's the exact opposite actually!  I'm grinning to myself because in the span of the past 24 hours I've had 3 different clients contact me because they have hit a road block and needed help.  For me, I'd far rather the client reach out to me for assistance than work themselves into a frenzy or loose precious holiday time.

Client 1 - Is having such a great time they decided they wanted to

stay a little longer in their destination so would I make the necessary arrangements to extend their air, accommodation and car rental.  
  • All of the above is done and communicated with the client,     documentation delivered and the client lost only 3 minutes of      their vacation by reaching out to ask me to look after the arrangements.

Client 2 - Her husband is currently in the Emergency Room and they are to depart for their 1 week vacation in just a matter of hours. She was unclear on her cancellation coverage and didn't want read through all the insurance options but wondered what to do, are the covered if they need to cancel and how to make a claim
  • A quick phone conversation and the client now understands the various options available to them and can focus on her husband and not worry about what to do next.

Client 3 - There is a terrible weather system moved in and the client's flight home for today has been cancelled.  The airline is  telling them they will have to wait and extra 48 hours and take a routing that has them flying here, there and everywhere.  
  • A few text messages later, and the client has been rebooked without them having to be on hold for over an hour with the airline.  They are now on a direct non stop flight that has them home earlier than what the airline provided.

In each of these cases, I ask you, what was it worth to the client to know that they were able to just make a phone call or send a text to have this looked after without loosing valuable time and without added stress?

On a weekly basis travel agents continue their education by upgrading knowledge and professional development.  Our experience along with the vast network of suppliers around the globe make an agent  the best investment in corporate travel, complex around the world airfare, all inclusive destinations, customized holidays from an African safari to a honeymoon in the South Pacific, to the adventurous trek in Nepal. We have a wealth of experience in destination weddings and family holidays from Disney to Harry Potter tours.  The value and multitude of positives that working with an agent can bring to the overall travel experience is second to none.  A travel professional continues to learn and never stops developing their skills and training to assist their clients. We develop relationships with hoteliers and tour operators so that when we don't know the answer to your questions, we can reach out to the person who does.

I am local.  I am available to answer your questions or meet with you.  I'm one of the many local businesses who support various initiatives in your community that you enjoy.  I am supporting the local charities, services, sporting events and more that help make your community a great place to live in!  You are my neighbor and friend.  Can you say the same about your online booking engine?  Do you know their names or how to reach them like the clients above?

So, do you still feel travel is best looked after in your own hands?  If so, then very likely nothing I say will change your opinion.  If you are of that belief the please, by all means, go ahead and book online! Happy travels.