Categories
Travel Management

Why People Should Use A Travel Agent

A few weeks ago, I spent cooped up in a travel trailer watching the rain come tumbling down for two days straight.  I was trapped in the trailer with my daughter, her friend and her friend’s parents, who had invited us to go to camping with them.  While sitting around waiting for a break in the weather we talked about a wide range of topics, including employment and travel.
He is in the military and she is a nurse and apparently they travel a couple of times a year, generally within the US.  When they learned that I worked for a travel agency, he asked me the usual questions about all the places I’ve been and isn’t wonderful how I get all these great deals on travel (the only advantage I have is that I see the specials when they first come out allowing me to be one of the first people to purchase the ticket, rather than one of the last) and then he asked me why people should use a travel agent.
I took a moment to compose my thoughts and then I explained why I would say that people should use a travel agent rather than doing it yourself.  I started with service.  Travel agents are service providers, you call and tell us what you want and we do the work to get you that service.  We are there to take care of you throughout the entire process of booking, traveling and even after you get home.  If you have a problem with an airline or a hotel or a car rental and you booked it yourself, do you know what your rights are and do you where to start?  Your travel agent does.  Not only does your travel agent have lots of contacts in the business, your travel agent has a relationship with the vendors that allows your agent to get special treatment for you at no additional cost or at a reduced cost. 
The next reason is knowledge and that is a big one.  Most professional agents have traveled extensively and have access to news about vendors,  resorts, hotels, etc., that the general public may not be aware of or they may not be aware of the importance of the news.  For example, a co-worker of mine had a client that was setting up a trip to fly between two cities in Southeast Asia.  There were two airlines flying the route, the customer asked for one and my co-worker had just read where that carrier had been banned from flying to/from the EU and the USA due to safety concerns.  My co-worker told the customer about the ban and talked the customer into flying on the other carrier.  It turns out that the original flight that the customer requested crashed, killing all on board.  Needless to say, the customer was very thankful that he had listened to his agent.   
Additionally agents get feedback from their customers which allows the agent to remain current about new situations that arise.  Sometimes this may be something as minor as having a customer tell you that a hotel is changing brands or that the visa both in the Istanbul airport has moved from the right side of the hall to the left side and is now a little further away from the stairs.  Or it could be something important like a construction project is starting next to a hotel and therefore the agent knows to steer people to other hotels or to request rooms on the opposite side of the hotel from the construction.
Then comes the biggest one, value.  Yes, you pay a service fee to use a travel agent however over time a professional travel agent will save you money and ensure that you get the greatest value for the money spent.   How does this happen?  It is a variety of things, ranging from insuring that you frequent flyer number is transmitted to all the partner airlines and car companies, to using connections to get you an upgrade on a cruise or a room at a resort to dealing with preferred vendors who offer amenities at no extra cost to the customer to just being diligent and checking repeatedly to see if the price has dropped.  Sometimes it simply knowing that an option exists.   Many people say there isn’t a good reason to use a travel agent on domestic travel because it is so simple, I disagree that  a travel agent can’t bring value to a trip, even if it is so simple to book.  Let me give you a couple of examples, a traveler is flying from Salt Lake City to Atlanta on Delta.  The traveler is departing on Monday morning and returning Wednesday night, the airfare is $1259.71.  If you book your own travel, you may think that this is the only option since that seems to be the lowest fare no matter which combination of flights you pick for those dates.  A professional travel agent can take a look at the fares and quickly determine that if you were to either fly into Atlanta on Sunday or return Thursday, you can drop the fare by as much as 50%!  That will cover the costs of a decent hotel and extra meals and still save you money. 
The other example would be if you are traveling to Orlando or other resort destination, your professional travel agent can easily compare the cost of doing everything ala carte or getting a package.  Packages may include a car rental and a hotel stay, admission to attractions,  in addition to the airfare.  The nice thing about packages is that you know the total cost, including taxes and fees, which may not sound like much until you get the bill.  Hotel room taxes in many resort areas are in excess of 10%, so on a six night stay at room rate of $150.00 per night, that’s an extra $90.00. 
I have a friend in the entertainment business who travels extensively.  Much of her travel is international and for several years I tried to get her to do her travel through me, instead she opted to do it herself.  A couple of years ago she visited the United Kingdom to attend a wedding of a good friend where she was going to perform a couple of songs.  She had listed the date on her website as a private performance, which is was, however when she arrived in the UK, she told Customs and Immigration that she was there as a tourist.  About 9 months later, she was returning to the UK, this time to be the opening act on European tour.  She landed in Heathrow, got to Customs and Immigration and was detained when she declared that she was a tourist.  Apparently, the authorities had discovered that she had visited the UK several times before and worked without the proper visa and this time they weren’t going to let her into the country.  They put her in a small room, where they kept her for 8 hours, then they handcuffed her and escorted her onto a flight out of the country.  She later told me that she hadn’t thought that she needed a work visa because she wasn’t taking a job in the UK, she was just passing through.  She no longer can visit the UK because of her error.  Now she calls me to set up her travel overseas and I make sure that she gets the appropriate documents so that she doesn’t have any additional issues.
Last one, about a month ago a friend of mine told me that she wanted to go to Bali this summer and that the best airfare that she could find was about $1500.00 from Los Angeles.  That was more then she wanted to spend.  I spent less than 30 minutes working on her itinerary and got her tickets, for the dates she wanted for $859.00.  Not only is she saving over $600.00, even adding in my fee, she’s flying on one of the ten best airlines in the world.  She has been advised of the passport and visa requirements, reminded of baggage limitations, had seats assigned, told how much time she needs to allow to check in and has been given access to a 24 hour, toll free number to call if she encounters any problems, just to name a few of the additional services that she received by booking through a travel agent.
So the simple answer to my friend was simply that without a travel agent, you’re on your own.

Categories
Business Travel Vacation Travel

Why Now Is A Great Time To Travel

I know many people are planning on staying close to home during these tough economic times in order to save money or just because it seems like the right thing to do. Actually this is a very good time to travel for a variety of reasons, ranging from lower costs to smaller crowds to fewer competitors calling on clients. And I’m sure that there are other reasons that I haven’t thought of but apply to many people.

Let’s take a closer look at some of these reasons starting with the last one first.  As many companies opt to cut their travel expenses they are removing the sales call from their sales staff’s bag of tricks.  While it is true that much can be accomplished via the phone, webinars and the like, there is an equally important truth, which is when you actually visit the client face to face it gives you the opportunity to actually meet the client, see what the client needs and wants, as well as create a relationship based in part, on the perception that you consider this client important enough to show up, even when times are tough.  I have heard of a number of companies that have cut their travel by as much as 70%.  This means that a significant portion of their sales force isn’t traveling and as such isn’t competing at the personal level.  Airfares are down, hotel stays are down, even car rental rates are down, so this is a very good time to go.  As an example, the Marriott Marquis at Time Square in NYC, was $450.00 and up per night, this time last year, now the rates start at $254.00 a night.  This time last year, the lowest one way fare from Los Angeles to New York City was $161.00, today you can get it for $109.00.  Those are pretty typical savings that are available right now, which means that it is a much better deal to travel for business right now.

In terms of vacation travel, this year is shaping up to be a great year to go on vacation.  With so many people opting to do staycations, many of the places that are normally packed with tourists during the summer months, such as Disneyland and Disneyworld, Europe, Hawaii and cruises, are looking like they will be relatively uncrowded this summer.  So if you’ve always wanted to visit the Louvre in Paris but the thought of the massive crowds kept you away, this may be the best time to go and not have to be in line for hours.

This coupled with the discounts that are being offered the airlines, hotels, tour companies, cruise lines, etc., it makes this summer look like a terrific bargain.  When you compare prices between last year and this year, the difference is amazing.  Just before the end of March, there were roundtrip airfares between New York City and London, starting at $68.00, plus taxes and surcharges.  Now, they start at about $90.00 roundtrip plus taxes and surcharges and yes, there are very limited number of seats available at these prices and they do require a Saturday night stay and travel must commence no later than May 26th, 2009 and they have a number of other restrictions, such as the tickets must be issued within 72 hours of making the reservation and ticketed no later than 5 days prior to departure, whichever comes first.  However when compared to 2008, where the lowest roundtrip fare was $236.00 roundtrip plus taxes and surcharges, this year’s fare looks awfully enticing.   Then when you look at the difference of the relative strength of the US Dollar vs. the Euro and other European currencies, Europe looks much more affordable.

This clearly is the time to go because who knows when prices will be this low again.  So if you’ve been saying to yourself I want to go on a cruise but I want a really good deal or if you want to go to Disney or Europe or really anywhere, now is the time to go.