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.