A recent article published by Work + Money has completely missed the mark on the value of a good travel agent, so Travel Market Report has taken on the task of setting the record straight. In response to the publication naming travel agents among the “25 Dying Professions You Should Avoid,” the agency community was quick to debunk the claim, offering up the many reasons why the opposite is true: Travel agents are more relevant than ever before.
The article, which claims online travel booking sites have made “everyone their own personal travel agent these days,” and that the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the number of travel agents will decline by 12 percent over the next ten years, was deemed “laughable” by agents that Travel Market Report spoke to this week.
“It’s far from the truth of where our industry stands,” said Kristen Buckshire, owner of Travel Ease LLC. “Within the family travel niche, I see more and more people turning to travel agents due to two factors: lack of time and increased industry offerings. Today’s parents are short on time between work, kids’ sporting events, homework, etc. It’s hard to find time to sit down and research all of the various travel options out there. This is the point at which most of my clients come to me … I get a call saying they sat down to Google a destination and they instantly felt overwhelmed.”
A personal touch holds weight
Buckshire’s sentiments were mutual across the board, as agents near and far weighed in on why the personal assistance of a travel agent will always be what separates travel advisors from online booking sites.
Roy Gal, a travel agent veteran of 18 years, says he’s tired of hearing year over year that “agents are dinosaurs and our profession is dying, when this has been our best year yet.” Gal says his profession’s greatest asset is the ability to determine if what you see really is what you will get. He is often presented with scenarios where he needs to set the record straight with his clients, who have been surfing the web and feel they are well-informed — only to find out they were misled.
“The ever-changing travel market makes some of the information on the internet obsolete and just not relevant.” Gal points to an example of a recent picture of a hotel property posted on a website that was strikingly different from the one he took recently on a site inspection. “Take a look at the examples below. Only an agent who specializes in a destination and knows the properties can share what the internet never will.”
The changing role of agent to advisor
Marybeth Hiller, senior travel advisor with Travel Edge, says the confusion boils down to perception, noting that the definition of an agent is a person or business authorized to act on one’s behalf, while the definition of an advisor is a professional with additional and deeper knowledge. “Before there was an internet, for a simple transaction such as a train ticket, or airline ticket from point A to point B, an agent acting on behalf of a client would take care of booking the reservation and issuing the ticket. Today, if this is all someone wants, then making this booking oneself online is feasible.”
But, what if you want to go on a safari or take your children or grandchildren on a river cruise to Europe? Or better yet, what if you don’t know what you want to do, where do you start? Hiller said: “Yesterday’s agent is today’s advisor. [We are there] for clients when a flight is canceled or weather prevents one from getting to their destination. And using an advisor often results in saving money and getting special perks that can be arranged. Perhaps a person can be their own travel agent, but they can’t be their own travel advisor!”
From cost and time savings to travel crisis prevention and preferred deals via consortia networks and buying clout, travel agents have an arsenal of tools that makes “going it alone” seem archaic in this day and age. And as the proliferation of travel information on the internet expands on a daily basis, seeking the advice of a professional is more and more the norm.
“It’s a known fact that most people never take the time to read through all of the small print before checking off the box agreeing to all of the terms of service; and very few are aware of what will happen when the resort they booked through an online booking site is overbooked. It isn’t till there is an emergency, a major delay, or the accommodations aren’t what they expected that they find themselves looking for an expert,” said Amy Rosenfield, owner of Adventures by Amy.
Gal wholeheartedly agrees: “When flights are changed or clients can’t find their transfers or tours, we are there to support them. Yes, they can try to call an online service, wait 20 minutes online (best-case scenario) … or they can call their travel professional who will know within seconds what needs to be done to resolve the problem so they can continue their amazing trip.”
Straight from the front line, it’s clear that travel agents know their worth and they aren’t going anywhere any time soon.