Why you need a travel agent

Why you need a travel agent

Think that the Internet is the greatest thing since sliced bread or that the best deals can only be found online? There are numerous reasons why the ‘smart money’ continues to favour the travel agent.

  • You are much more likely to pay extra for your travel purchases when you use certain travel web sites, based on the computer hardware you use.
  • You cannot always trust the recommendations you read online.
  • The Internet will only give you the right answers if you ask it the right questions. Using a good travel agent can save you money most of the time;
  • You enjoy little or no financial protection when you book directly with many suppliers such as airlines, hotels, car rental operators and transfer companies.

The many advantages of using a travel agent

The Internet has become such a familiar and comfortable medium to consumers in recent times that many now conduct a lot of their business online — whether it be ordering groceries, buying clothes, books or electronic goods or booking their next holiday abroad. Such is the convenience and perceived price competitiveness of the ‘Net’ nowadays, that many people now assume that there is no longer a need for using a professional travel agent. This booklet hopes to change your mind in that regard by revealing some information that you may find surprising; by providing you with insights on the latest trends in both technology and consumer behaviour that you may find of interest and by reminding you of the huge benefits that accrue to those who continue to use travel agents — both here in Ireland, and right around the world.

Choice

Many users cite ‘choice’ as being one of the main reasons why they choose to surf the Net, looking for that great holiday offering that costs half nothing. The reality — when you dig a little deeper — is somewhat different! Take a typical search result for a query like ‘cheap holidays to Majorca’. A search engine like Google will usually deliver about 16 million results and yet consumers rarely check anything that doesn’t appear on the first page (i.e. the first 10 results). Since there is no guarantee whatsoever that the cheapest or even the best offerings are contained in that first page of results, the consumer continues to deliberate under the illusion that they’ve already found the best, most suitable or most appropriate holiday offering out there. A good travel agent, on the other hand, provides what is known as a ‘curated’ synopsis of all relevant holiday or travel offerings based on a combination of Internet research but more usually, travel industry resources that no consumer has access to, resulting in options that consumers might never even know about. In repeated supervised tests in the States (where they regularly do this kind of thing) travel agents have always consistently trounced the best offers that consumers were able to find on the Internet — even after exhaustive searches!

Risk

Everything online is not always as it seems. The entity from which you may be purchasing your airline ticket through or hotel room from may not be located in Ireland and therefore not subject to Irish consumer law and the protection that such legislation ensures. The provider of your travel services may not be licensed or bonded whereas your local Irish travel agent is both licensed and bonded as they are not allowed to trade without either. This means that no matter what happens, your hard earned money is always 100% protected and guaranteed when you purchase your travel arrangements through an Irish travel agent whereas your online investment may provide zero guarantee — and that’s just the legitimate ones! Add to that, the fact that regulators are increasingly seeing the rise of online scams where companies trading on the Internet and who look legit and who have impressive looking websites can sometimes turn out to be elaborate hoaxes designed to part unsuspecting travellers with their money.

Trust

Trust is not a quality that anyone can simply offer — it is an attribute that must be earned. Because of the small margins that travel agents earn on what they sell, they need to sell a lot of things to a lot of people and because traditional advertising and marketing are generally expensive, travel agents rely heavily on the most valuable business generator of them all — word of mouth! Travel agents tend to succeed or fail on their ability to retain customers once they acquire them and customer retention ultimately relies on trust. Seasoned travellers know that they can always rely on the advice and recommendations of their regular travel agent because it is in the travel agents’ interest to only suggest product offerings that exactly match with each client’s needs, preferences and budget constraints. When a consumer deals directly with a specific airline or tour operator are they likely to receive the most objective advice? Not necessarily. Why? Because it is of course in each suppliers interest to recommend their company and their product offering as they need to capture that sale whereas in the case of a travel agent, he or she will provide you with the options; filter a huge choice down to a manageable shortlist and offer qualified guidance based on the intimate understanding of what they know your needs to be. Online, on the other hand is a totally different kettle of fish. You are often manipulated, whether you realise it or not. Recently, no less august a title than the Wall Street Journal revealed that Orbitz was manipulating prices so that users of Apple products were being quoted on average, prices that were up to 20% more than their PC-owning counterparts. In the UK, the Advertising Standards Authority has forced Trip Advisor (the world’s largest such website containing over 50 million reviews) to admit that ‘not all of the reviews posted on its site are trustworthy or real!’ It therefore begs the question that if you can’t trust what these huge online companies tell you, what else that you read online can’t you trust?

Back-up

You’ve booked your flight online and you find yourself abroad when your circumstances change. It could be an illness of a family member; an annoying Icelandic volcano or any one of an infinite number of reasons that can call for an unexpected change of itinerary. What do you do? Who do you call? As anyone who has ever tried to contact a low cost carrier to effect a change in a booking will know, it’s almost an impossibility. Contrast that with the traveler who makes all his or her travel arrangements with a travel agent. One call, email or text message back home is all that’s needed to put a sequence of events in train that ensures peace of mind and avoids an escalation in blood pressure. You might never need it but isn’t it good to know that it’s always there? Using a travel agent ensures that they worry so that you don’t have to.

Perspective

As is often said, we are all the sum total of our experiences so it only follows that, by default, our judgment and preferences when it comes
to making travel decisions are necessarily biased based on what we’ve previously done and where we’ve previously been. Because travel is what travel agents do, they tend to have seen a lot more of the world and enjoyed a greater diversity of experiences than a typical consumer has and it is this broader perspective and depth of knowledge that often comes into play in a very positive way when people consult a travel agent. A travel agent can be the devil’s advocate that helps you consider options or destinations that you may have previously discounted due to misinformation and/or even lack of information. A good travel agent can help you to realise your own potential when it comes to discovering the world around you.

Technology

The Internet is not the be-all and end-all — not by a long shot. There is much more sophisticated technology out there and travel agents have it at their fingertips. They spend a lot of money each month to gain access to it and it’s what they use (in addition to the Internet) to create the complex itineraries or compute the infinite different fare combinations that allow them to consistently beat the Internet itself, when it comes to extracting value for consumers. Amadeus, TravelPort and Sabre may not be names that you are familiar with but they are all multi-billion dollar companies who manage some of the largest and most sophisticated databases in the world to which most of the world’s airlines and travel agents subscribe. Between them, they manage billions of fare transactions per day. It literally takes years to acquire expertise in the proper interrogation of these massive online databases and it is this hidden ‘Internet’ that you access as a consumer when you retain the services of a travel agent.

Time

Booking travel arrangements online is an extremely time-consuming activity unless you are booking something that is really familiar to you like a point-to-point flight booking between Dublin and say, London. The more complex the transaction or the less familiar you are with the subject matter or destination, the longer it is going to take you to research all the relevant information; check out all the available options; compare all the different price propositions before finally committing your credit card details. It doesn’t have to be that way. Other than the initial consultation that a travel agent engages in at the outset in order to establish your needs, budget and travel preferences, you need spend precious little time over a booking, confident in the knowledge that a travel industry expert is looking after your best interests and who can ensure that you get the best value-for-money deal out there, without having to engage in any of the time-consuming legwork.

Convenience

Utilising the services of a travel agent represents the best of both worlds — you enjoy the benefits of a bricks and mortar physical presence that you can pop into whenever you have the time or the inclination but with the near 24/7 accessibility that comes from the constant communication that ensues between travel agent and client via email, website, e-newsletter and/or SMS text message. An increasing number of travel agents are going online and engaging on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter and although their efforts in this regard leave something to be desired at times, it is getting better all the time and a far cry from what it was just a few short years ago. Also bear in mind that some travel agents are just better than others in respect of certain destinations or travel activities. In much the same way as doctors or solicitors tend to specialise in certain aspects of law or medicine, so too is it the case when it comes to travel. Whilst some may specialise in family and couples holidays; others may specialise in long haul, honeymoons or sports tourism. Don’t be afraid to engage in a little research and seek out the advice of others before committing to any single agent.

Relationships

In addition to the relationships that can develop between travel agents and their regular clients, there are also the business relationships (and friendships) that come about between travel agents and many of their suppliers — particularly where a lot of business is being traded. This means that a well-connected travel agent can sometimes get access to room availability, airline seats or cruise ship cabins where others might just be told that the hotel, flight or cruise in question is fully booked.

Advice

The Internet is a wonderful medium to be sure but there is a huge difference between information and knowledge. Information is what the Internet contains whereas knowledge is all about the things that travel agents know and believe me, there’s a huge difference between the two! Whereas the Internet provides the consumer with facts in response to specifically asked questions, the knowledge that a professional travel agent dispenses is information combined with analysis and experience. The Internet is not a mind reader and therefore doesn’t have the wherewithal that a travel agent does to ask the right questions and in the right sequence in order to extract the necessary information. There is not a single minute of each day that someone, somewhere does not make a serious error online either due to clicking that ‘Complete Transaction’ button a little too quickly, or because they failed to ask a critical, relevant question during the transactional process.

Cost

The Internet is a wonderful medium to be sure but there is a huge difference between information and knowledge. Information is what the Internet contains whereas knowledge is all about the things that travel agents know and believe me, there’s a huge difference between the two! Whereas the Internet provides the consumer with facts in response to specifically asked questions, the knowledge that a professional travel agent dispenses is information combined with analysis and experience. The Internet is not a mind reader and therefore doesn’t have the wherewithal that a travel agent does to ask the right questions and in the right sequence in order to extract the necessary information. There is not a single minute of each day that someone, somewhere does not make a serious error online either due to clicking that ‘Complete Transaction’ button a little too quickly, or because they failed to ask a critical, relevant question during the transactional process.

Trends

As we all know, the Internet originated in the States as a kind of ‘command and control’ network for the Department of Defense before being adopted by universities and research bodies for sharing data and it was there that it first gained popularity amongst consumers once it was released into the wild. Ever since, the USA has been at the leading edge of developments in online commerce in general and online travel commerce in particular. So much so that it is generally agreed that whatever starts trending in the US invariably trickles down to other markets around the world within a few years. Interesting therefore to note that in recent times, consumers have been rediscovering travel agents — the benefits that they offer over those of the Internet; the peace of mind and security that they represent and perhaps most tellingly of all — the fact that travel agents are much, much better at making travel arrangements in a time-efficient and cost-effective manner than any booking engine or sophisticated computer algorithm!

What Next?

Before planning your next trip, take a small leap of faith and entrust your travel plans, finite budget and stress levels to a human being who understands the nuances of human behaviour and knows how to ask the right questions in order to elicit the right information. In other words — ask your local travel agent!

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