Fave Five Reasons for Using a Travel Agent

My favorite reasons for using a travel agent before booking a trip By: Kenneth Shapiro

Often, when someone hears that I’m an editor of a travel trade magazine, they are especially interested that many of TravelAge West’s readers are travel agents. The responses I hear are telling of the way the industry is seen in general.

There are those that seem jealous of agents and have a romantic idea of how much “free travel” they do.

Then there are others that seem to feel that using a travel agent is a sign of weakness and mental ineptitude. (“After all, I do all my own trip planning, even if it takes me weeks.”)

Finally, some people simply seem confused by what services the modern travel agent performs. (“Do you mean those people at the airport ticket desks?”)

It’s this last group that I usually try to help because possibly, with a little education, they might benefit from finding the right agent.

Here, then, are some of the reasons I give for using a travel agent.

When It All Goes Wrong
One of the first cover stories I wrote for TravelAge West dealt with disaster contingency plans for travel agencies and it included a look at travel insurance. As research for the story, I spent a Saturday at a local American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) seminar on travel insurance and was blown away by what I learned. Not only did we talk about the wide range of situations that can come up before, during and after a vacation (and this was before any of us heard the term “ash cloud”), but we delved deep into the mind-numbing intricacies of travel insurance. How could anyone even begin to understand these policies?

Well, travel agents do. And they also understand the fine print used by airlines, resorts, cruise ships, etc.

After that seminar, I decided that just being able to make sense of all that information alone is expertise worth paying for. These days, consumers often need an impartial advocate on their side when it all goes wrong, and that’s a primary function of being a travel agent.

Do You Like Saving Money?
Okay, stupid question. But many of the people that ask me why they should use a travel agent have no idea that they can actually save money by working with one.

Between the discounts and value-added offers available to agents from their preferred supplier relationships, as well as the know-how of when and how to travel, the fee one would pay to a travel agent is recouped in short order.

If you don’t believe me, search the Web yourself and check out some of the mainstream articles on this topic. For instance, here’s an article from USA Today about how agents can save travelers money on cruises.

Do You Like Being Aunt Edna’s Personal Assistant?
Anyone who has planned a group trip or family reunion, and does it a second time on their own without getting help, is either a masochist or has deep-rooted control issues.

I love my extended family, but do I want to be in charge of making sure that Uncle Charlie gets the ideal time for his deep-tissue massage? Or that Grandma Rose gets her favorite table, with her favorite waiter, at the first dinner seating? Heck no.

Every group trip — much like every work project — needs a project leader. This is someone that, among other things, will coordinate all the tiny details and listen to everyone’s complaints. Not only is this often a thankless job, but it’s incredibly time consuming.

As busy as we all are these days, I am perfectly happy paying a travel agent to handle this important work — while I research which golf courses to play.

How’s the Weather in the Seychelles This Time of Year?
Oh, you don’t know where the Seychelles are? Well, I guarantee there’s a travel agent who can answer that question without thinking twice.

Statistics tell us that more and more travelers dream of adventures in exotic destinations. And if a traveler can dream about going there — and doing god knows what there — there’s a travel agent that’s a specialist in it.

When I was in journalism school, a teacher, who had just published a book, told the story of how he went to a cocktail party where a brain surgeon said to him, “I’ve thought about writing a best-seller.” To which, the teacher replied, “Funny, I’ve thought about doing brain surgery.”

Many people just assume that they can be experts in whatever field they choose to dabble in at that moment, and nowhere is this more true than with travel. But there’s a big difference between doing a bit of research and earning your livelihood by educating yourself on all the aspects of a destination. Why anyone would think that it’s a good idea to travel thousands or miles — and spend thousands of dollars — without seeking expert advice, is beyond me.

There’s a Sucker Born Every Minute
Would you like to market your house as a five-star resort? If so, I can build you a website that does that.

As a member of the media, believe me, you can manipulate any photo, any text or any website and make it look like whatever you want it to be.

And don’t even get me started on anonymous user-generated opinions!

People are basically good and they want to believe everything they see and read online. But I’ve visited resorts that had me wondering what kind of NASA-engineered lens could possibly be used to make the pool look 20 times bigger than it really is. Unfortunately, there are people who are perfectly happy taking deposits and then vanishing, or are fine with portraying their product as five-star when it’s a total dive.

For the traveler who doesn’t want to roll the dice with his or her time and money, the smart bet is to seek out the advice of an agent that has been to the actual resort or sailed on the actual ship, so there are no unpleasant surprises.

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