Are Travel Agents Still Necessary?


In a modern world of TripAdvisor, Travelocity and Expedia, the idea of a travel agent reminds people of a time that has long passed in the digital world.  Time and time again we hear, why would we pay someone to book my trip for me when I can just do it myself on the internet. Travel agents are more than nostalgia as the world that we live in seems to get more dangerous by the day.  By building a relationship with a trusted local travel agent, we know what we are getting, where we are getting it, and why it is the safest option for the trip that we want to take.

Within the watersports community, we know that many of the places that we like to go to are among the safer places in the world.  However, even in these places, there is danger.  They are happening in the type of resorts that many of us would choose to frequent to be close to some of the most interesting dives in the country. A travel agent is just more than someone who places your name in a computer so that you have a flight, hotel and event ticket when you start your trip.  A travel agent is a professional who has spent years building up a network of trusted providers in their area of specialty whom they can call upon when a client wants a trip in a given region.  While an individual can log on to a mega-travel site and look at reviews and “trusted” providers, it can be hard to tell that many reviews are written by bots and all it takes to be a “trusted” provider on most sites is to pay the fee.  Travel agents have actual testimonials about different providers, which then helps them decide whether to use those providers again or not. This type of network can be the difference between a good trip, a great trip, and a horrible trip.

Many people still think that if they “buy online”, that they can do it for cheaper because they are not “paying someone to book it for them.”  It may come as a surprise but even if you book online, you are paying someone to do it for you. There has to be someone with a license selling you those tickets, hotels and event seats.  The way that you save online is through volume. The giant companies can sell things for cheaper because they know that 90% of people will not complain because they think that they booked it themselves (how can you blame yourself, right?).  This means that the portions of the budgets that Travel Agents use to fix problems turn into profits for the companies, all because they maintain the myth that “I booked it myself.” When you purchase with a travel agent, generally the cost is 2-3% higher than what the big sites offer, so unless you are booking a $100,000 vacation or corporate junket, the savings are below marginal.

So what do you get for that 2-3% extra that you pay for a local travel agent? Well, there are several things that a travel agent can give you that a “mega-site” cannot:

1.) Real face to face customer service

In the digital world, this is often lost on many people.  When people have trouble with trips the biggest thing that you hear is “I didn’t know.” That is because a travel agent will help educate you about where you are going. Travel agents know the good hotels and, though you may pay a little more, you will find that on a dive trip good sleep can be better than saving $15 (US) on a cheap room.

2.) They use their network to help you

Even if your agent does not have experience in the area where you want to go, if they are affiliated with an agency group, then they will have a connection who does have access to that area.  My agent works with one of the largest travel groups in the world, so when I call her she literally can find someone who can help with any region an American citizen is allowed to go to.

3.) They can suggest things to make your trip better

Sometimes people think that the tourist traps are the best part of a trip.  While diving the “main show” in any town can be fun, you will likely be doing it with dozens of other people and not get to see much other than a well-worn dive site.  However, if you have a good agent, they can connect you with locations that are off the beaten path and will give you an experience that few other people get.

4.) They can help you get travel insurance

One of the big reasons people do not like agents is because they “try to sell you insurance.”  In most areas they do not want to do this, but they are required to by law and licensure agreements. Even when you book online, you will have the option to click the insurance box.  Most of us ignore it, most of us are making a big mistake. Good programs will pay for trip interruption, cancellations, war, acts of God and even repatriation of remains.  This is above and beyond the medical insurance which can keep you alive. Insurance may be an “unexpected cost” but it is a cost worth paying.

5.) When there is a problem, you have someone to call

Having been on many trips, knowing that I have someone to call when there is a major problem is a great stress reducer.  Having done both, the automated “mega-website” and the real travel agent crisis, I will pick a travel agent every time. Travel agents work for you to make sure your trip is better, so either you are paying yourself or paying them to be crisis control.  Once again, how much is your vacation time worth

While these may not seem like a lot, believe me when you have a problem they are worth every dime you paid.  So ask yourself, have I ever had a vacation that did not have a problem in it? How much time did you spend dealing with that problem, time where you missed out on your trip?  When it comes down to it, the little bit that you pay for an agent can actually save you money in the long run.

One of the most important parts of using an agent is finding a good agent.  I have an agent that I use every time I book a trip, she knows what I like, what I need and knows the “comfort range” of prices.  On several trips, I have seen some hidden jewels that the people who “book for themselves” miss because they are a little off the beaten path, but my agent knows of them (or her network does) and I now have those experiences.

When I am booking, my agent saves me time. When I am traveling, efficient planning saves me time. And when there is a problem, my agent saves me time dealing with the problem too. So ask yourself, what is your time worth?  If it is worth more than that mere 2-3% that you save booking through a site to which you are just a number, then maybe you should think about finding a local travel agent, so your money goes back into your community and your time remains yours to spend on your trip.

About the Author

Dr. Smithmyer is the Vice President of International Affairs for Brāv Online Conflict Management, an international consortium of conflict resolution professionals. Dr. Smithmyer is also a columnist for NRN doing mostly political and international business columns. When Dr. Smithmyer is not working with people to make the world a better place, he enjoys snorkeling the waters of the world.

Dr. Smithmyer has traveled extensively in the United States, Australia, Vietnam, and the Bahamas. He has also presented in the U.K., India, Brazil, Eastern Europe, and Southeast Asia. Dr. Smithmyer is one of the most lettered men in the world with nine degrees. As an adjunct professor in his spare time, Dr. Smithmyer uses his business experience and travels to help bring the world to his students and even brings the students to the world through experiential learning trips.

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