On the Fly™ - Editorial Commentary by Travel Expert Stephanie Abrams

June 18, 2003: Are Travel Agents Obsolete?

Why would you want to waste your time with a travel agent when you could just go to any website and buy yourself a trip? I wish I could respond by saying, "That's a good question!" but it's not! There are just too many false assumptions bundled into those few words. Let's dissect them for clarity:

Firstly, using a travel agent is probably the only way you can plan a trip without wasting your time! For those of you have made your own travel arrangements, whether on the telephone or on the web, you can attest to the fact that this is not a quick and efficient process, and it is often fraught with obstacles and frustrations. But use of your time is the least of the reasons why you should use a travel agent.

In the same way you look for a doctor, a mechanic, or a hairstylist that you can bond with, you need to find a travel agent who will take up your cause with enthusiasm and care. They're out there waiting to help you! And here are just a few of the things they will do to make your travels pleasant, smooth, and cost-effective:

Before your travel purchases are made, your agent will want to know your preferences for seating, smoking or not, spending limits, frequent destinations, favorite leisure activities, and what you are looking for in this business or pleasure trip. The goals of your business trip may focus on economical use of time and money, choosing levels of service according to your expectations, as well as hotel accommodations convenient to your appointments at your destination. An agent will meet all of those needs with care. Too often web purchases do not focus on anything but the cost of travel services provided. If you save $50 per night on a hotel, but have to spend $60 per day in taxi fares , it is clear that there were no cost savings! Furthermore, we have no way of putting a price tag on what it cost you in time and stress to flag down taxis while dealing with weather conditions and fatigue that is part of "life on the road."

Too often, travelers arrive at a hotel front desk only to be told that what they think they have reserved isn't available. The savvy traveler with a strong travel agent makes one phone call, regardless of the day of the week or the time zone they are in, and the militia is called into action. This is not a battle that the road warrior, or the family on holiday, has to struggle with alone. . . unless they've bought the trip from an impersonal web site where this sale is considered completed and the traveler is just a booking number in a database. In a client/human travel agent relationship, there is a real person who can carry your silk scarf into battle to deal with pre- and post-travel concerns as well as being there while you are in the course of your travels to assist you in a myriad of ways.

Travel agents spend their professional lives keeping up on information regarding destinations, transportation, accommodations, great deals, and making the right match for each client's needs. And, yes, they use the internet too! Agents use the airline computer systems, the web, incoming email faxes, paper faxes, mailgrams, and hotline telephone systems to unearth everything you need so that you have the best trip every time. Additionally, there are companies who will ONLY sell to agents and, much as they appreciate your indirect business, they will not deal directly with the public. One of those companies is a huge air consolidator named Skylink, which has relationships with every major airline, domestic and international, for economy class service as well as many business and first class cabin flights. Clever agents use Skylink to provide outstanding savings to their clients while keeping them on their favorite carriers and allowing them to collect their frequent flyer mileage.

The internet plays a wonderful role in giving travelers instant information on what a destination holds in store for them, from weather conditions to attractions. When you know what you want, your agent can focus on the travel arrangements necessary to make your vision a reality, while advising you on identification documents you will need, insurance you should consider to protect you, your investment, and those you have waiting for you at home, and addressing every detail of your trip. When you're not sure about what you want, an agent can play a key role in giving you the information you need to make the decision. With opinions formed based on their own personal visits and the feedback from colleagues and clients who have traveled to places you are interested in, your agent is able to give you valuable impressions of hotels and destinations that go to the heart of the questions on your mind in a way that no brochure, no video clip, and no web page can.

And, most importantly, the travel agent is the only advocate the traveler has! Agents fight on behalf of their clients every day! Professional organizations of travel agents continually lobby on behalf of the traveler to protect your rights. If you book without a travel agent in the loop and you have a problem related to your travels, are you going to call a computer? Or maybe Ghostbusters? Neither will be able to help. Your travel agent will intercede as your personal advocate to help you get what you expect.
And here's a thought to ponder: If travel agents all disappeared tomorrow, every traveler would be in a little row boat with no oars, at the mercy of the winds and tides of the giant suppliers in the travel industry. Support your local travel agent. They are here to support you.

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