Testing the Waters with Dori: Travel Advisors Don't Save Their Clients Moneyby Dori Saltzman /
Before you grab your rotten tomatoes to start throwing, hear me out.
Let me start with good news. Over the past three years, there have been numerous articles – from local newspapers to national magazines – celebrating the "return" of travel advisors and extolling the reasons for using one.
(See "Forbes Says 'You Need a Travel Advisors in 2023'" and "Is this the Era of the Travel Advisor?")
It's been some of the best press the travel agency has community has seen in a long time.
But there are a couple of pieces of all that press that rubs me wrong.
So much of the messaging boils down to this: travel advisors (usually still referred to as agents) do a great job, save you money money, and it won't cost you anything, because advisors get paid by the suppliers.
Case in point, see the three quotes from mainstream media sources below:
"The cost of using a travel agent is generally marginal, and often, they won't charge you at all." – Do Travel Agents Save You Money?, Nerdwallet
"I do not charge fees. When you're booking a cruise, there's a commission amount already built into it and so that's how I get paid." – Travel Agents Can Help You Navigate Your Next Cruise, Save Money, KSL News
"Utilizing a travel agent usually won't cost you anything, as many are paid by the airlines, hotels, and resorts." – Travel Agents Can Help You Save Money, Rebook Canceled Flights, FOX 26 Houston
Is this the right message the travel agency community should be spreading?
Should the value of using travel advisors be tied to how much money they can save people, while at the same time not costing a dime?
I'd argue the answer to both of those questions is no.
That's not the value of using a travel advisor.
Yes, a travel advisor might save someone money, especially if you believe in the mantra "time is money."
But chances are, most people can put together a vacation on their own that will cost less. I mean, you can't book what you don't know exists and travel advisors know way more about what's available than the average traveler. Travelers might also choose a less expensive hotel or room category because they don't understand the value that comes with paying more for something that might be more inclusive or more customizable.
Rather than emphasizing that advisors can save people money, the industry should be emphasizing that advisors get people the most bang for their money. That they provide a higher value for the money people pay.
As for the third piece of that generic message – it doesn't cost anything to use a travel advisor? It's time to toss that out completely.
Whether you just started yesterday or have been in the industry for 35 years, you should be charging a service fee or a planning fee or a consulting fee. Regardless of whether you get a commission or not.
Today's advisors work for their clients and with their supplier partners. Yesterday's travel agent worked for the supplier and with customer.
So, if you're working for your client, the client should be paying you – for your time, your expertise, your relationships with suppliers, etc.
I've heard time and again from advisors, particularly cruise-selling advisors that they don't charge a fee for a cruise booking, especially with clients who already know what cruise line or ship, itinerary, and date they want. It's easy to do, it doesn't take long, and the cruise line is paying a commission for that booking, so they see no reason to charge a fee.
What if that client wants to make a change at some point? Or they have questions they want you to answer? Who is paying you to make that change? Or answer those questions? The cruise line isn't. Essentially, you're doing those things for free – and, in fact, each change and question is eating into the money the cruise line is paying you for the booking.
In 2022, the American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA), changed its professional credo to include the following: "ASTA travel advisors often charge clients professional fees, to reflect the value of the unique services they provide to their clients. We support this as a best practice."
It's time for that credo to make its way into the hearts of all travel advisors. You bring so much value to the table, there's no reason to be not charging a fee.
Which brings me back to, travel advisors don't save their clients money.
I say, what does whether a travel advisor saves their clients money or not have to do with the price of tea in China? Saving money isn't the point and it's not a message the industry should be spreading.
Let's steer the conversation away from money altogether and focus on service and value, because in the end that's why people stick with – and pay fees to – travel advisors.
What do you think? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know whether you think travel advisors should be spreading the word that they can save people money?