Today I am pleased to present a guest post written by Chris Owen, social media expert and great knower of all things cruise related. He graciously agreed to tackle an important travel topic from an equally unique point of view – travel agents.
It seems the big question that always comes up when talking about travel agents is “Do I need one?” Travel agents themselves naturally say “Yes!” and go on with a number of reasons why. They have some good reasons that are pretty hard to argue with and some others that are easily discarded. It’s a personal choice for sure but one worthy of some consideration.
The easy answer is “No, you don’t need a travel agent.” There are very few travel situations that one can’t book themselves today. It wasn’t always that way though. Long ago, there were very few travel situations we could book ourselves. Airline tickets, cruises, hotels, car rentals, all can be done with a few clicks and a credit card.
The bigger question is “Should I use a travel agent?” because you really don’t need one. So why bother? Bother because a good travel agent, one that has “been there and done that” and has personal experience to share, can make all the difference in the world. Like a good blog, a good travel agent will have a rich history of knowledge to share and add value to your travels. The travel agent you want will specialize in the travel you are planning. That means stay clear of travel agents who do everything. No one person can have complete and total knowledge of all aspects of all possible travel options. It’s just not humanly possible. If they say “they can book anything” or “they can give you information on everything” I guarantee you that they are reading their experience online, in a book or calling someone for the information you need. There’s a huge difference between reading our experiences and living them.
The travel agent you need specializes in one main field with a couple complementary fields to go along with it. Perhaps they specialize in hiking but have a high level of expertise in photography as it pertains to hiking. They’ll know enough to size you up, take stock of what you might be capable of and make some unique and exciting suggestions for travel you might consider. Along with that they can tell you what you need in the way of photographic equipment to take along.
There are two kinds of travel agents: Ones that specialize in a very narrow niche that are in high demand and order processors. You want the former and should have no time for the later.
Unfortunately, there are way more order processors than there are specialists working as travel agents.
Agents that specialize in cruises only or Vegas only or backpacking or mountain climbing are out there to be found. Those will be the people with an intoxicating passion for what they do and that passion is obvious. In their presence, there will be absolutely no doubt in your mind that they know what they are talking about, have extensive personal experience in what they do and are eager to share all that with anyone who will listen. These are the experts that enjoy sharing their love for whatever it is they do with others almost as much as they enjoy doing it themselves.
The order processing you can really do yourself, probably not quite as well as someone who does it professionally, but well enough. The real value from having an expert travel agent on your side comes from the experience they have to share. Knowing about a cool café in Paris not on the guide maps or even in someone’s blog is good stuff to know. Getting first-hand information on how the whole visa thing works and for what countries you need one can be easily obtained online, but you sure don’t want to mess that up. You could be left with just part of a travel story since you did not have the right documentation to get into a country. These are things with which a good custom agent can help.
It’s the age of specialization in travel and those agents fully embracing their passions, engaging us in a social way, and either starting or continuing a conversation about what they do are the ones you want.
Luckily I am writing this to the audience of a travel blog. If you are reading this you already know how important engaging information and people are. Social outlets around today will be the travel platforms of tomorrow just like airline ticketing was the travel platform of yesteryear.
It might seem odd to you and I that old-fashioned travel agents with paper tickets and cryptic coding of travel options still exist. It is odd but they won’t be around for very long. As their clientele ages and fades away, so will they. If you are using one of those travel agents for anything, be sure you know how to do the remedial tasks they perform yourself. Modern-day applications like, well, pretty much anything you might be viewing this on, can take their place in a heart beat.
But don’t be put off by the age of an agent. There are a lot of very well-traveled agents out there who have some miles on them. The smart ones, the engaged ones, the ones you want won’t hesitate for a second to tell you “I don’t do that” if asked about an area of travel outside of their expertise. Very much like a doctor who specializes in one kind of medicine, an engaged agent-expert will specialize in one kind of travel. Those are the ones you want.
Agent-Experts and not Travel Agents are a lot like bloggers actually. Let me give you a quick example.
Leigh Caldwell (@themeparkmom) has themeparkmom.com and is my source for all things theme parks. That’s saying a lot for a guy who lives in Orlando, has kids that work for Disney and friends who exclusively sell only theme park vacations. Why? She has the passion, fire and ability to communicate effectively on all things theme parks. My kids work there so they see theme parks from a workers perspective. The agents I know who sell theme parks see them from a sales perspective. I live close by theme parks but see them from a visitors and neighbors perspective. Leigh has all angles covered and communicates what she knows frequently, freely and without bias or judgment but filtered through her words that I trust in a way that really draws me in.
I bet she could probably book an airline ticket too. I could care less. I have Johnny Jet for that. He’s my guy for all things that fly.
Are you getting the idea?
An Agent-Expert passionate about what they do is the one you need.
If they don’t have that, they are worthless to you.
9 thoughts on “Most Travel Agents Are Worthless”
Well, your title is a bit harsh, but I would agree with you that the best travel agents are the specialists who are passionate about their specialty.
Well it was Chris’ title but I think it succinctly sums up his argument. Just hope people read the post before commenting on the title. LOL
Actually the title is what got my attention, is it harsh? I suppose it is, is it unreasonable? I don’t think so. Anyway I’m not here to critique :)
Very informative and reaffirms everything I had thought and wanted to know about travel agents, unfortunately it seems to me there are too many agents (or order processors) and no travel agents, the agent type industry seems to have died off as soon as the airlines quit paying commission to the agencies (I was a travel agent intern when that happened).
I think Chris should WRITE another article about how to FIND a good agent, unless he already has one? :)
I’ve been let down time and time again by travel agents. Unless I need something very specific, then I don’t see the need at all.
In fact, on a recent trip to meet me in Argentina, my father requested 3 travel agents help for flights to/from and in the country. One didn’t reply, the second would only reply if repeatedly asking for updates via email, and the third came back with a high price. My Dad checked online and found a cheaper flight with less connections and layover time. When he asked the agent why he didn’t provide that flight he said it wasn’t listed from his wholesaler and he would call him back. Of course he didn’t call back, and my father booked his own tickets.
If even my Dad can be his own travel agent, then I feel sorry for those travel agent clerks who will all be out of jobs soon.
Great post! I actually found someone at the recent Travel & Adventure Expo here in DC that specializes in adventure travel in Asia, and I am seriously considering using her for planning some of the logistics of my transport for The Mongolian Experiment. My trip will involve a RTW ticket, potentially a couple 1-way domestic tickets within Mongolia itself (which are notoriously difficult for foreigners to book unassisted), and potentially a Russian visa (another obnoxious one to get). After looking at the logistics for a month and then meeting that specialty agent, I decided to just hand it over to her. The peace of mind will be worth it when I’m dealing with a trip that has so many other complications.
That’s awesome! As an independent traveler I am a recent convert to the value of a GOOD travel agent. They really can mean the difference between a good and a great trip.
As a new-ish travel agent (I have been full time for 2 years), I was really interested to see what your article was about. I have to agree with it 100%. When I interviewed here, this was one point that was heavily stressed on me. We pride ourselves in focusing in on our passions; however even if there is a location or type of travel that I don’t know as well, there are a 4 other advisors in our office who might know, so either I still take care of their vacation with their assistance, or will pass it over to them.
I still want to give the laundry list of reasons why I think what we do is important, but I think you actually took care of part of it.
As an independent travel agent in England we do pride ourselves on our knowledge and expertise and providing our clients with advice. But there are a couple of angles in which this post is attacking travel agents.
People are generally more well travelled than in the past and the online blogging community even more so. But not everbody has the experience that bloggers have and not everybody even has access to the Internet (this may come as a surprise to you!). As a travel agent I sometimes have to bow to my client’s superior knowledge about a destination in particular (I haven’t been everywhere) but me wider knowledge is better than the average traveller and is commensuarate with the markets I sell in.
Another factor mentioned by responders relates to price. Unfortunately most airlines do not pay commission so we do have to rely on our consolidators to negotiate the best deals with individual airlines. As a consequence we accept we can’t win them all but win more than we lose!
The most important factor in using a travel agent in the UK however is for financial protection. Not sure how this works in the US but in the UK reputable travel agencies have to be bonded and in so being this means our client’s money is completely safe. In how many other industries do you pay huge sums of money, well in advance of receiving goods/services, without your money being at risk in the (all too often in this day and age) event of the financial collapse of the organisation you have placed an order with? And don’t expect credit cards to pick up the bill – if you fail to show on a tour you have booked because of the failure of an airline you may get your money back on the flights but not for the tour – they haven’t let you down, you failed to show.
Financial protection hasn’t been mentioned in the post but I find that most people who come to us want to know how we protect their money – something that can’t be done when you book with lots of different suppliers online.
I’m finding the way travel agencies (are being forced to) operate in a post modern era is much like a grocery store/supermarket.. sell everything en masse with low profit margins. What this does is create cookie cutter trips, although good for some.. they are not tailored to the experience of the traveller(s). I had a friend who is an agent look into a 7 leg European trip for me to see if he had different ideas/lower cost, but I soon realized because of my research I could book for cheaper myself and had a better familiarity of the places I was going because of the hours I had put in.. For the same or less costs of a tour, I was able to develop a solo tour for myself where I had all the control of my experience. Its about how well an individual can plan and research and time taken to do so.. its beneficial having an agent in those instances when you need a hand, but if you don’t.. they become perfunctory.
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