Over the last few weeks a few comments have been made, questions posed and issues raised about what has become a controversial subject. I’ve thought a lot about it and I am pretty sure I have formulated my opinions, but I’m really curious to hear what you think.
A few months ago an article on the Woman’s Day website discussed the utility of travel agents in 2013, making the argument that thanks to technology they are no longer necessary. The article wasn’t shy either; the author took a lot of digs at the agent world calling them opportunistic and driven by money more than anything else. Since this is the Internet, the post drew worldwide furor and agents from all walks of life left hundreds of comments decrying the inaccuracies in the post.
Since then there have been follow up articles, both for and against the use of travel agents, but one thing is for certain, Woman’s Day hit upon a very sensitive topic. While the travel agent world may have been on life support at one point, the truth is today that the industry has rebranded itself and is actually thriving. But this debate made me wonder, who is actually using agents? Is it mostly corporations and large entities that book a lot of travel, or is it really the individual traveler?
Personally, I have never used a travel agent. It’s not because I have anything against them per se, I don’t. I happen to love travel planning and spending hours online checking flight and hotel options is a hobby for me, not a chore. I also know many travel agents, I like and respect them, I just haven’t used them. That doesn’t mean I don’t think they are useful, they are. There are cases though in which I can see myself using an agent. If I were to plan a very special trip and wanted some extra perks like hotel upgrades thrown in, I would use an agent. If the trip was excessively complicated and included hotels with which I am not familiar, I would use an agent. If I were to go on another cruise, which I hope to, I’d probably use an agent because they can get some incredible upgrades included. But I think that’s about it really.
My first thought about all this is that my friends at least don’t typically use agents because of the lack of transparency. If you go online, you can see plainly what the best deals are. It’s hard to put all of one’s trust in an agent that the offers they present are actually the best deals, or instead the best deals for them. It’s just human nature and if agents can help assuage these fears that would encourage my friends to use them more.
SO, my question to you – have you ever used a travel agent and would you again? Please give some details about your own experiences.
21 thoughts on “My Question For You – Are Travel Agents Still Relevant?”
Hey Matt, interesting article. I’ve used a travel agent once because I won a voucher to use with them. I went in with the details of the flight and train I wanted and at first they couldn’t find the same fare I’d found online. They quoted me a more expensive price until I asked them to check again. My parents booked the majority of a three-month trip in North America with an agent and also had issues with the agents not being able to find the same information regarding tours and hotels etc that my Mum found online.
I know a lot of people feel more comfortable booking through an agent and for that reason I think there will always be a place for them. (A friend who is taking her first o/s trip told me that even though she could get a cheaper price by booking it herself, she went through an agent because she was worried about messing up fights from Australia to Thailand.)
But as an experienced (budget) traveller I don’t have a need for them.
I entered the travel business for specific interests. I wanted to get groups of people together to do really cool niche trips. As an agent, I develop relationships with the various suppliers that I choose to do business with. I learn their products, I know which company or line best fits my client. I don’t simply look for bargains, but for value and a product I believe in. Agents definitely have their place. Yes, some things you can find online “cheaper” but that doesn’t necessarily mean better. Finding an agent who specializes in what you are looking for is invaluable. They will know inside info, what to avoid, what not to miss, what to check out, etc. They do the digging and planning for you. They may have personally been to that place and can vouch for it, or their network of agents and business partners will help them. Believe that when you book something online, there is still a commission built into the pricing. Just like anything you buy, there is a profit margin for the manufacturer, supplier and seller.The cost and service is figured in. Some agents also add a fee to complicated custom itineraries because of the many hours of research. Remember, Travel is a service industry.
I’d be the first to admit that if you know exactly what you are looking for and you’re willing to roll with the punches, or you like to go where the wind blows without much planning, you may not need an agent. I will tell you this, if you want to save yourself time and effort, an agent is the way to go. Like any other service oriented business, find one you like, and build that relationship. Let them get to know you. Someday, you will appreciate having them in your back pocket.
See agents always say that we’ll need them, but I don’t know anyone who has ever needed to call on them. Personally, I love the planning and effort and so while I acknowledge agents are probably a good idea for some, they’re just not for me.
First of all, I really appreciate you writing about this topic. Our company deals with this question every day.
I work for an online travel agency where we are taking great steps on closing the gap between travel agents and individual online planning. In fact one of our principles is to provide the flexibility and services of a traditional travel agency with the convenience of booking online.
Referring to what the two of you said, we offer the joy of planning (and sharing) a trip and the expertise of a travel agency.
I would be really interested in your feedback. Please let me know if can share the link to our website.
Not sure what feedback your looking for. Most travel agents are stuck in very old ways of thought, even if they have embraced digital. A fundamental shift has to happen in the industry in order for it to persevere. And no, no links please.
I do use agents, when they offer deals which hit a price i can not manage to get by myself.
As an example, last year i joined a last minute 3 day Rome tour including the flight and transfer,
stayed in 4 star hotel for 249 Euros.
This was a value which i could not make possible by myself by any last minute deal at that time.
If money was no object then I’d probably use them, simply to save time even though I love trip planning. I’ve used a travel agent once and she found me a deal that I wouldn’t have been able to find on my own. However, when I went to use her a second time I realized how much I was being overcharged, so I’ve never used one again. I think slowly but surely they will become irrelevant for the most part.
I used a travel agent once, way back in the day, when my now-husband and I were booking a month-long trip to Asia. Since we were going so many different places I felt more comfortable getting an agent to do the booking.
To be honest, I feel like we paid more then we probably would have online, and some of the flights were also weird (flying all the way back to Singapore from Philippines, then up to Japan to go back to Canada…what?). I have never used an agent since, and likely only would if I were trying to plan something like a destination wedding where a large group is involved.
I love trip planning to much to use an agent, but I do see where some people (especially older non-techy people) would prefer to use them.
Looking at “special fares” they have posted in travel agency windows here, their cheapest prices are often still higher than what I find online.
We’ve never booked a getaway through a travel agent. Like you, we enjoy researching flights and finding deals. My parents, however, would benefit from a travel agent. For them, planning trips is overwhelming.
I love spending time planning my trips so I don’t really want the convenience the travel agents offer. I also find that when it comes to booking flights they are never good value.
The only time I use a travel agent is to book hotel / resort accommodation when I am going on a holiday (as opposed to travelling) and even then I only book through an agent if they are offering a really good deal.
Hi Matt. It’s an interesting question. Having worked for travel agencies in the past (and currently), I really have seen the changes that have happened. As you say, a lot of it is about rebranding but I also feel travel agencies are offering new things and the best of them are really trying to find a way to innovate and reimagine the industry – for the benefit of the buyer. I won´t leave the links on here because I don´t want to spam, but I´m going to send you an email!
That said, I personally am an independent traveller. I like budget travel, and I like being able to improvise. As I get older I see this changing, but for now I like the freedom to wake up when I want on holiday.
Well I do think that using an agent is an option for independent travelers like us. I would never use one to book a tour, just flights and hotels if that.
Hey Matt – Good question, and I think Dawn answered it perfectly. I’m not looking at a travel agent to save me money, but to give me value – and there is a huge difference. If you’ve chosen your agent carefully, they should deliver what the internet can’t: knowledge, experience and service. If it does cost more, I say that’s money well spent. Honestly, though, I’d say that I have not used an agent for years, but a good friend IS an agent and I am always picking his brain. I feed him well when we get together, so I figure we’re even. Now I realize that I actually have been using a travel agent. Or maybe that’s more like “abusing”…
So it seems that most people like the value an agent can give but not necessarily the cost.
Absolutely travel agents are relevant! They are experts in certain kinds of travel or destinations, so when people are overwhelmed by the options (and there are A LOT of those), they can help clear the confusion to find the best package for the best deal. Even though I haven’t booked through a travel agent, I often tap them as among the very best resources for travel information, and I wouldn’t hesitate to book through them. I absolutely hate travel planning, and I love that there are people out there who do it for a living.
For personal use, I seem to echo the policy at the last companies I have worked for. If it is a simple trip, no more than 2 or 3 destination cities, book it yourself. Complex, or first time somewhere, or a cruise, or (ex) 8 ppl on a safari to Kenya, use an agent. They do have upgrade access, but more importantly they can fix travel issues that may/will happen to you at those times when you have no internet or phone service. Not all the world is as well connected as some travelers seem to think.
All great points JR, thanks for adding them.
I’m from Asia and I like to travel NOT with a travel agent, but I’ll share about what happens here. Most people in Asia don’t speak much English, so travel agents and company are still a big business here. People (in person, that includes my family and friends), would rather just pay a travel agent in the reason of comfort. First they don’t have to do the research, second because they don’t have the time to organize everything, and third, the most reason is because it’s not really travel, but rather a vacation. And yes it’s driven by money because it’s a business.
So I think that travel agents still have a good future even though the Internet provides almost everything, because there’s a different group that uses it. For me, I prefer finding everything myself because I like the searching and the unknown.
I don’t like too much of a plan and haven’t used one in over 25 years. But different strokes for different folks. I see them as beneficial for group and corporate travel, as well as some types of packages.
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