“In fashion, one day you’re in, and the next day you’re out.” That’s the tagline of the popular Bravo TV series “Project Runway.” What host Heidi Klum doesn’t say is that classic designs never go out of style. And while the spotlight dims on some looks, in time they often are all the rage again.
Likewise, travel agents are staging a comeback.
Booking travel online was the fad for many years. However, people have discovered that they don’t necessarily save time and money by using online travel company Web sites. They realized that they were unaware of important information that they didn’t think to look up on the Internet or couldn’t locate there. If a sudden change in plan arose or a problem cropped up, they found that their phone calls to a general service number went unanswered.
As a travel agent, I’m with clients before, during, and after a vacation. A couple of years ago, I arranged a European cruise for a couple and two of their relatives. They wanted to spend time in London sightseeing before their ship departed and then fly to Paris when the cruise was over. I made private sightseeing arrangements through their Paris hotel’s concierge to fit their special needs. A monkey wrench got thrown into the works when, instead of taking a plane to Paris, they had to take the Chunnel. I quickly set up transportation from the train station to the hotel, and I informed their family members of their whereabouts. Upon returning home, they were happy to know that travel insurance covered all the additional expenses.
My professional contacts keep me up-to-date on specials, policy changes, and so on. This means my clients have an inside track to information, often not yet available online, that could result in their having a more-bang-for-the-buck vacation or being able to avoid an unwelcome surprise upon arrival at a hotel.
Travel industry interests, such as a hotel group, a cruise line, or a tour company, sponsor familiarization trips so that agents can learn about destinations and services while keeping in mind what their clients would enjoy seeing and doing. When I’m on vacation (I’m partial to the Caribbean), I make a point of touring the area (or the island), visiting different resorts, and meeting with hotel managers. Doing so makes recommending a place to go and a place to stay so much easier when I get to know my clients.
Sometimes travel agents are more than travel agents. For instance, they can be wedding planners, too, making travel arrangements for all the attendees of a destination wedding and working with a hotel’s wedding coordinator. A few years ago, I booked a family reunion cruise for about forty people from across the country. I arranged an on-board cocktail party, where they reconnected and swapped stories. I also helped set up shore excursions and made sure special accommodations were provided for the wheelchair-bound participant.
A term of art in the travel industry is “added value.” For example, a hotel policy of “kids eat free” is considered an added value. A travel agent can be a true added value – not merely akin to a fashion accessory – when arranging everything from a quick weekend getaway to an extended globe-trotting vacation.