The ubiquity of technology combined with the lasting impact of the pandemic has formed a perfect storm of confusion for consumers – which is why it’s absolutely crucial that they book their trips with travel advisors.
“Living in a world where endless information is at our fingertips, planning a vacation has gone from being independent and booking it online yourself, to ‘I am so overwhelmed with all of the options out there,’” said JoAnne Weeks, vacation division director at Acendas Travel.
“We are finding even the savviest travelers are now seeking out a travel advisor. What consumers are coming to realize is what they see online is not as unsettling as what they don’t see. That’s where a travel advisor comes in.”
Added Churchill & Turen Managing Director Richard Turen: “You cannot use the Internet to find the world’s top-rated cruise line. You cannot use the Internet to obtain a professionally written hotel inspection report. You cannot find a caring personal travel health advocate on Twitter. For that and so much more you need a travel truthteller who represents you and you alone.”
Turen said he likes to think of a great travel advisor as a trusted physician who knows their clients well.
“The trip ‘diagnosis and recommendation’ should never be placed in the hands of a commissioned call center robot working out of Miami, Mumbai or Manila.”
Then there are the issues of time.
“Clients call us frustrated that they have long hold times,” Elite Travel Management Group CEO Tammy Levent said while being on hold for two hours with a cruise line.
“I have so many people calling me saying, ‘I booked online and need to change my ticket,’” she said.
“If it’s an airline issue, the client has to wait on hold for hours at a time, and then there’s the change fee for third-party bookings. So, at the end of the day, it costs clients both money and time.”
“There have been so many last-minute changes due to COVID and our clients were spared the endless hours on the phones with the airlines or hoteliers,” said VIP Vacations President Jennifer Doncsecz. “Having a travel advisor on speed dial is the best travel hack out there!”
There are also the myriad issues relating to protocols, travel advisories and red tape stemming from the pandemic.
“I can’t tell you how many times in the past year VIP Vacations has helped our clients with getting their passports or having to walk them off the ledge when they were confused with online forms that needed to be completed before arrival in a destination,” Doncsecz said.
“We thoroughly detail travel insurance options to meet their very specific needs so they protect their investment.”
For his part, Turen believes it would be helpful for every advisor to keep a carefully designed list of the multiple functions they perform – virtually all of them complimentary.
“We help interpret dreams, we operationalize them and then we become advocates of strength for the clients who entrust the best moments of their lives to our care,” he said.
“In defining what we do we must explain to clients that if they book directly with a supplier call center they are likely entitled to a refund of the entire travel advisor’s commission.
“If we don’t do this, suppliers will continue this massive consumer rip-off in which naive consumers who do not use a professional travel advisor are charged the advisor commission anyway.
“Travelers deserve to be coveted by consumer protection laws.”
In the final analysis, the value of using travel advisors boils down to their formidable knowledge and experience.
“The value of providing first-hand destination experience, having personal relationships with preferred vendors – which goes a very long way in today’s world of travel challenges – and being up to date with any and all COVID requirements is priceless,” said Weeks.
“We’ve been a trusted resource long before Google and we know the correct answers,” said Sarah Kline, president of Time for Travel.
“I don’t do my own taxes, cut my own hair or change my oil. I use someone who specializes in these services who I trust.
“Without a travel agent, you are on your own!”