Once upon a time you had to go to a storefront and meet face-to-face with a travel agent if you wanted vacation planning help, but the internet has changed all that. Now, you can check destination reviews online, ask questions on forums, compare prices at your keyboard, and book your own trip.
If it’s so easy to book your trip directly, why are travel agents still around? You might think the internet drove them out of business, but it actually opened up a much bigger market for them. There are still many reasons why you should book with a travel agent, and since they’ve moved online, it’s easy to find one who’s an expert on your desired destination.
I’ve been a travel agent for more than ten years, so I can give you an insider’s view on why you’d want to use an agent (and the times it makes more sense to book yourself):
1) You want to go to an unfamiliar destination. Maybe your dream trip is Alaska, or even an African safari, but you don’t know where to start your research. Before the internet, you’d probably have a hard time finding a local travel agent with expertise in those locations. Now, an expert is just a few mouse clicks away.
Many travel agents specialize in certain vacation spots, like Alaska, Europe, or Walt Disney World, or in types of vacations like cruises, gay travel, or family trips. Personally, I have extensive Disney Cruise Line knowledge, so that’s the only thing I book for clients. A good agent will educate you on everything you need to know about your dream destination to ensure you have a great trip.
2) You want to save money. Travel agents can help you save in two important ways. First, they know the best seasons in which to book and the times when certain destinations have discounts or special offers. Second, some even offer rebates to attract more business. For example, I rebate part of my commission to my clients, based on their cruise cost.
Some people worry they’ll pay more when they use a travel agent, but that’s a fallacy. The price is exactly the same as booking directly because the travel provider pays the agent’s commission.
3) You want a high level of service. Many travel agents will help you with all the little details of your trip. For example, I make shore excursion and specialty restaurant reservations for my cruise clients. If you have a good agent, it’s sort of like having a concierge who adds that personal touch that you won’t get booking directly or through a big travel site.
What about the times you shouldn’t use a travel agent? I can think of two main reasons. The first is if you prefer to be completely in control of your reservation. When you use an agent, that person is the only one who can make changes, and that frustrates some clients. Second, sometimes you’ll find an online deal that travel agents can’t match. I’ve lost clients because of those deals, but I’ve also had some choose me instead because they don’t mind paying a little more for my extensive Disney Cruise Line knowledge.
Consider all these points next time you’re planning your vacation. You might just discover that using a travel agent to help you is your best bet.