Do you know what travel agents do?

It’s not a trick question. Do you know what travel agents do on a day-to-day basis? Do they specialize in all modes of travel or just some? Do they confine themselves to specific geographical areas or do they cover the whole world? Do they focus on group or individual travel? Are all travel agents the same? Do they all know the same stuff? OK, that’s more than one question but you get my drift.

Travel agents know what they do and unfortunately, many of them often make the mistake of assuming (incorrectly, as it turns out) that members of the travelling public also know what they do! The fact of the matter is that those members of the public possess varying degrees of understanding of what travel agents do or indeed what other professionals within the overall travel eco-system do too. Tour operators anyone? DMC? GSA? GDS?

Like so many things in life, what looks on the surface as being a very flat, straight-forward, simple industry turns out to be quite complex and convoluted. Do you need to really know any of this stuff? Probably not. But what you should try to get your head around and understand is the nature of the pivotal role that travel agents play within the travel industry and why they should always be your first (and probably your last) port of call.

Let’s start with a medical analogy that will probably help you:

When people take ill, they do not automatically present themselves to the nearest A&E. Most will usually visit their nearest GP and describe their symptoms. If the nature of the symptoms is such that the GP feels they are beyond his or her expertise to accurately diagnose or if he/she is uncertain as to the underlying cause of those symptoms then the patient is referred on to the relevant specialist consultant. In perhaps 95% of cases, the GP can identify the nature of the problem and therefore prescribe the most appropriate course of treatment.

The travel industry works in a similar fashion whereby the high street travel agent mirrors the role of the general practitioner in that he/she possesses a considerable working knowledge of all aspects of general travel — i.e. flights, ferries, car-hire, package holidays, cruises, coach tours, vaccination or visa requirements, long-haul travel, sports events, attractions, transfers and so on but may not necessarily be expert in any single one of those sectors although increasingly in recent years, the more progressive travel agents have begun to refine their expertise and focus more on certain niche markets such as cruising for example.

If the requested travel arrangements are within the competencies of the travel agent, then they will make all the necessary arrangements but if the requirements of the itineraries demand a bit more specialist expertise, the travel agent may choose to sub-contract out some of the work to a niche tour operator, local handling agent or destination management company. In an ideal world, the less ‘layers’ that are involved in putting the travel arrangements together, the better, since each ‘layer’ will invariably add more cost to the final price since each contributor to the travel agents will need to make their own little margin so one of the many decisions that a travel agent needs to make is how many travel partners need to be involved in putting the itinerary together ion order to ensure that all arrangements work like clockwork and still ensure that the final quote is cost competitive.

One thing that travelers need to be extremely careful about when comparing competing quotes from different travel sources is whether they are comparing like with like since the proverbial ‘devil is always in the detail’! A perfect example of this is when booking packages to New York since the state/city imposes a mandatory room tax of 14.75% plus a flat fee of $3.50 per day but not all quotes will not necessarily include those charges! The above is but the most simplistic overview of what travel agents do so we may explore this subject in a bit more detail in future blogs.

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The art of getting a quote that is both competitive in price and relevant to your needs starts with gathering all the right information about what you want to do (or think you want to do!).