Travel Agents Are Still Needed, in My Mind

I’m currently madly booking and researching all things LA and Oahu with kids. I’ve engaged a travel agent to coordinate my trip for us. People keep asking me why?  Why are you not booking online?

  • Travel agents in the United States are down from 34,000 to 13,000
  • Yet they still made $95 billion in 2011
  • Niche specialists now offer best opportunities for agency model

Source CNN Travel ‘The travel agent is dying, but it’s not yet dead’ Rebecca L. Weber


Using a Travel Agent 

Do you continue to use one? Do they still have a place in the world of online travel? I think so. I’ll tell you why. I’m a busy Mum who works full-time and writes this blog. My blog takes at least 10-12 hours per week. Have you read The Wife Drought by Annabel Crabb? In one sentence it’s about having a spouse who takes care of the domestic front and therefore eases the work front. Everyone needs a ‘wife’ in the traditional sense, even wife’s. We need to outsource as much as we can, hence why I use a travel agent. Well, that is the first reason. For working families, our life’s are busy. We don’t have access to the community or village support we once had. We need to take whatever help we can take.

Secondly, our trip is multifaceted. We have two destinations but 2-3 locations in each destination. We cross the international date line – it’s a blonde thing, I want to be reassured I have booked the right dates. I want transfers to be booked. I want breakfast packages (apparently America doesn’t do that??? Why the hell not?) I want activities to be booked. I can do all that. I’m sure my son could too if he wanted to. Time. Experience. A travel agent doesn’t – well shouldn’t need to research everything first as they should have previous experience to use in reference.

Lastly, I want expertise. I can look up Trip Advisor like the next person and read a plethora of good and bad reviews. Finding restaurants and hotels is easy enough to do but are the ‘most’ reviewed, the best? I want information about landing and timing. For example we arrive in Oahu in the morning and it was suggested to me to collect car and head straight to the North Shore for a few days rather than staying in Waikiki heading to the North Shore and back to Waikiki for a night to meet departing flights in the morning. Here I was checking in and checking out all over the place.

I want advice on Disney tickets. Do we need two days? Do we need a character experience? Our travel agent had just booked 10 trips to Hawaii and LA prior to my call. She knows the hotels and she knows the locations. My agent knows what time flights land and take off (approximately) and she has worked hard for whatever she earns from my tickets. She assessed my original itinerary and moved lots of things around – order and whatnot to make my travel easier. I’m travelling with kids, I don’t need additional challenges.

Travel agent v’s online

The cost for our travel through the agent was slightly more expensive than what you could find for flights per person. The additional $50 or so is null and void given she has us travelling on the same airline for two legs of the trip. Last year when I booked Malaysia I could not get flights online with consistent airlines for good prices. It’s so much easier when you are travelling to multiple places to only have to think of one airline.

The hotels were absolutely cheaper online. When I called the agent out on this she explained the room type I was looking at online would not fit all of us. Travel agents often have access to information like square footage of rooms – which helps to understand if you will have space while you are travelling. After receiving my itinerary from the travel agent, I looked up the room rates and I couldn’t do better. I could match it, but not do better.

AirBnB

I had intended to mix some hotels with apartments during my trip because I wanted to experience life as a local at some point. Having been to Malaysia last year, a priority of this trip was ‘whatever is easiest’ we have therefore settled for hotels. I have to say it’s made me very calm. I tend to worry about AirBnB bring all that they say it is.

There are dreadful stories of people having their AirBnB cancelled a week before arriving and then the cost of accommodation being through the roof. Mixing with hotels and smaller style locations is a good way to meet the locals.

Where do I think the travel agent could improve? 
  • Looking at alternative accommodation such as condo’s and townhouses. We were offered hotels everywhere despite saying we were open to suggestions. Having said that I was quiet happy with the choices made. In fact I am excited about her choices. Such a minor thing especially when I have had ample time and opportunity to look at alternatives.

I will continue to use a mix of agent and my own online bookings. If I have been to a destination previously or I have a lot of information I will often book flights and accommodation. If I am flying into one destination and only one hotel booking online is okay. I use Agoda for flights  and Skyscanner for flights. I reference reviews from Expedia and Trip Advisor but I use mostly magazines for tips to great hotels. Too much information can be overwhelming, just sticking to reputable sources to guide me can minimise confusion.

I have found with the growing presence of online travel there is an overload of information. There is a Lonely Planet or Fodors guidebook for every location. I find I’m drowning in information. My list of what to do is too big. I hate checklist travelling. By using an agent I can get tips and snippets without research. I travel to discover and learn. I want to work out that subways are the best way to get around and I want the experience of minor travel hiccups. It’s what grows you.

I’ll be using my agent for a long time yet. How about you?

It’s been in the media recently as Webjet launched an advertisement slamming travel agents. The response has been pretty strong. A director of one of the travel agency replied with the analogy that using online agencies to book is similar to going to a restaurant and cooking your meal yourself and then doing the washing up.

You can’t beat personal service people.

 


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