Disclaimer: Please note that I am a travel/sales consultant and have been so for over 15 years now !
There is a belief that travel agents are a dying breed, dinosaurs of the travel industry so to speak - Love them or hate them, they still do exist. The travel agent remains of value to travellers, just like you will always need to have a hairdresser (unless you wish to look like an abominable yeti) - Your travel agent can still play a vital role in helping you organise your next holiday or business trip. It is certain that the advent of online bookings and the ease of planning a holiday yourself has made for tougher competition. Marketplace competition is not a bad thing, the traveller wins in the long run.
The nature of travel consultants has changed over the years - due in part to the changing options which are available to the traveller. However there is still a place for a travel agent, and the company I work for employs many consultants around the world and there is definitely no lack of work - and according to a CNN article they are on the way in rather than out! Travel agents usually work very long hours to ensure you trip is perfect, will lose sleep over their precious bookings and all that for minimal wage in most cases. It is true that there are travel agents who earn a commission on the sale of a trip or product, it is no secret, but that is how they survive. ( I don't in my current role)
Us travel agents have had our share of good and bad press - In a Womans's Day article the travel agent is seen as someone out to get you type story and these do nothing to help our reputation. Just like any other industry there are great travel consultants and not so great ones - Clients know very quickly if they have a good agent and will usually stick with them.
There are lots of travellers that will certainly book a trip and their flights online (the irony though, there will be a consultant behind the scenes processing that online booking - see we are still needed) - This is relatively easy to do if your plans are a simple flight and a few nights in a hotel. However once your itinerary gets a little more complex ie a few countries and several flight sectors, trains, transfers, tours etc.. the experience of a good travel agent will certainly come in handy. There is also someone you can call if things don't go to plan or you need to get refunds on your tickets etc.
Does the traveller really need a travel consultant or can they simply hop online and plan it all themselves - my personal view is that both avenues are still great options.
The travel agent that knows their stuff, has travelled extensively will help you find that holiday that matches what you are after, the online search engine may not be as smart, and it is certainly not a personal experience that you will receive.
In order to get the best out of your excellent and hard-working travel agent, I've put some ideas that I know would help me in my day-to-day job. I receive daily emails asking for a quote and 80% of the time the lack of information I have received from the client means I have to chase them for more details before I can plan their itinerary. This means a delay in getting the information the client wants.
Here are some tips of how to make the process of travel planning with an agent a little easier:
How to make the most of your agent:
What not to ask your travel Agent:
Google it :
There is no doubt using search engines such as Google to get information and planning your trip is vital - As an agent I myself rely on the net. The information you get from your search will often help plan your trip to a certain point and then you can drop into your favourite agency and hand them your request. No you are not doing all the work so that I can earn a commission - you are giving me the tools and the information to cater the perfect itinerary to your needs.
In the end, whether you like to book via an agent or online, know that a good consultant will work hard with you in order to ensure you have the best possible holiday - The benefit of speaking with a consultant who has travelled to the same destination as yourself will be invaluable.
Lastly if you have an amazing trip tell your agent about it, we learn from the feedback of our clients. We usually get just the complaints (hopefully not too many)- they are valuable too so that we do better next time.
What do you think? Do you prefer to use a Travel agent or plan your trip online?