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Planning a trip is like buying a sweater. You could design it yourself but a travel agent can help keep things from unraveling. How people shop for and purchase travel, however, has changed a lot in the past decade or two. Online travel agencies, or OTAs, have become commonplace, embedded in our computers, tablets and smart phones. For many travelers, they are the “go to” source to plan, shop for and book airline tickets, hotel rooms, car rentals, cruises and travel packages. Today’s OTAs also offer a range of useful functionality. They utilize price comparison, traveler reviews, detailed product and destination information, and rewards programs, as well as easy-to-use technology that puts planning and booking trips solely in the hands of the traveler. Most OTAs also offer live phone support, primarily for any technical issues users may encounter.
So where does this technology leave yesteryear’s “brick and mortar” travel agent? Pre-internet, the experienced, well-informed travel professional provided travelers with the best deals, inside information, and first-hand advice. In fact, they secured reservations for everything to make your trip a hassle-free, memorable experience. Well, those agents are still here, and many are thriving. In fact, after years of declining numbers, in 2015 the number of travel agents, as recorded by the U.S. Census Bureau, jumped nearly 20%. Though their function has evolved with the changing technology, knowing how to work with a professional travel agent can still save you time and money. It can also make your trip everything you dreamed it would be.
Consider these helpful hints when choosing and working with a travel agent:
Find a Professional – Most states do not require travel agents to hold a license or certificate, but some obligate travel agents to register with the state. Therefore, experience matters and being a travel agent is largely based on experience. Ask around, read reviews, inquire about an agent’s experience and their expertise. Many of the top agents are members of ASTA, whose recent name change to the American Society of Travel “Advisors” vs. “Agents”, distinguishes these ASTA members as being more than just booking agents, but real travel advisors.
Relationships Matter – The best travel agent for your trip is the one who understands the type of travel you’re planning. For example, if you’re planning a cruise, look for an agent who is not only familiar with cruising but one who maintains favorable relationships with cruise line representatives. The travel agency business is built on relationships and from these relationships come a high level of experience in selling select types of trips. These relationships also provide agents with access to the very best offers, help when help is needed and support for more complicated bookings.
Get References – As you would when hiring a home contractor, doctor or lawyer, getting references before choosing a travel agent is an important first step. It should come as no surprise that many people who travel are eager to share their travel stories. Look at social media, send a message or call a past traveler of the agent you’re interested in. Like any professional, customer referrals are the lifeblood of a travel agent and the best agents are more than happy to provide prospective customers with references.
Work with a Specialist – There are many types of travel experiences and just as many travel agents who specialize in them. Adventure travel, Eco-travel, Escorted Touring, Cruising, Romance, All-Inclusive, Destination Specialists, and many more. Again, experience matters. By specializing in one type of travel experience, agents are more likely to know the best type of trip for their clients. Being specialized also enables them to attend to every possible detail, from when to go, what to see, what to pack, how to tip and everything in between.
These articles present general information and are for informational purposes only. They are not a substitute for legal, financial, medical, or other professional advice.