Without a travel agent, you’re on your own!

The title of this week’s blog is a tag line that was introduced some years ago by ASTA, the American Society of Travel Agents, to reinforce the point that when travelers organize their own travel arrangements, there is no back-up when things go wrong, whereas when you make them through a traditional travel agent as opposed to an OTA (online travel agent — different beast altogether!) you enjoy all the service benefits of that eco-system. The Irish equivalent of ASTA, the ITAA (Irish Travel Agents Association) also uses that same slogan to emphasis the benefits of utilizing the services of a travel professional.

The reason I’m bringing this service issue up now is that both the significance, importance and utility of such services only really become apparent when things go wrong when Mother Nature throws a hissy fit which is what’s happening over in the Caribbean right now with Hurricane Irma. Such events are collectively described as ‘Acts of God’ by insurance companies and thus no travel insurance policy covers policy holders for the consequential losses that can occur. From even a practical point of view, the challenges faced by travelers in such circumstances can be significant: cancelled or re-routed flights, closure of airports, tourist facilities and even highways. The mobile phone networks can go down making communication with loved ones virtually impossible. Being a traveler trapped in such a situation can be frightening, let alone challenging. That’s why it helps to have someone back home watching your back, looking after your best interests and keeping you in the loop when up-to-date and accurate information is a scarce resource.

There is an old saying in the underwriting business:

‘You never need insurance — until you need insurance!’

In a sense, the same could be said about a travel agent. The services that they provide can be so seamless, innocuous or invisible that they can be taken for granted and it is usually only at times of stress that the true value of the service that they provide or the advocacy that they represent, really comes into sharp focus. The fact of the matter though is that your average travel is watching out for you 24/7, by minimizing the risk of things going wrong; by being proactive rather than reactive and by ensuring, where possible, that you are not treated as a number or a booking reference by any of the large international corporations — whether they be cruise lines, tour operators or airlines — who, let’s be honest, tend to see all customers simply as a revenue entry on a spreadsheet!

Using a travel agent rarely costs you more but often costs you less so there is no real economic argument for making your own travel arrangements, particularly when the travel industry is probably more vulnerable to outside ‘events’ than practically any other. This week it happens to be all about hurricanes. Next week it could be about air traffic controllers going on strike or even the airlines themselves. Remember when SARS reared its head? Or that infamous Icelandic volcano whose name everyone found impossible to pronounce. The fact of the matter is that the statistical likelihood for things going wrong is much higher than most people realise, so every time you make your own travel arrangements, you are unwittingly at the start of a journey that can end up becoming a form of operational Russian roulette with all the consequences and inconveniences that that can have.

Why take that chance?

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