ABC Reporter Asks, ‘Is it Cheaper to Book on Your Own or Hire a Travel Agent?’by Richard D’Ambrosio /
A Raleigh, North Carolina, television news program celebrated National Travel Agent Day by making the case for the value travel agents provide over do-it-yourself travel websites.
"I-Team” reporter Diane Wilson at Raleigh’s ABC affiliate broadcast a two-minute piece on Tuesday, May 1, 2018, explaining her own personal experiences booking travel, and interviewed Crystal Nash Seaton, travel agent and owner of Road to Relaxation Travel in Raleigh, North Carolina. (National Travel Agent Day was Wednesday, May 2.)
“You are getting someone with knowledge and experience on your side, so you don’t have to do all that work,” Nash Seaton said on camera, noting how agents are paid commissions by suppliers.
She added that if consumers find special offers online, “99 percent of those deals, we can get ourselves,” though she cautioned viewers about how promotional offers often “come with a lot of small print that you don’t really notice up front.”
Wilson opened her segment by stating how there are “dozens and dozens” of websites that consumers can visit, from packaged tours to luxury travel. “If you can name it, you can book it on your own,” Wilson told viewers.
Saving travelers time and money
Focusing on the amount of time a consumer could waste trying to book on their own, Wilson later in the segment quoted an Expedia study that says Americans spend 23 hours on travel websites six weeks prior to booking a vacation. “Those are hours that you could save for other things and let a travel agent do the work for you,” she said.
In the accompanying online story, Wilson also quoted Rob Stern, of Raleigh agency RobPlansYourTrip.com, describing how, “Travel agents offer many things that the Internet does not, including personal knowledge of destinations and our recent travel experiences, knowing the quality of different travel suppliers, and providing a live resource for help during your trip."
Stern had nurtured the relationship with Wilson since February, when she commented on Facebook while searching for reviews about a Cancun resort. Wilson and Stern shared information back and forth about the Cancun vacation, and he took the opportunity to pitch her a story idea about seasonal travel trends. Wilson came back and, instead, said she wanted to do a piece about how agents can help consumers save time and add value.
Stern built his public relations background before starting an agency working for a travel trade association, and he has been befriending media personalities like Wilson on Facebook.
Unfortunately, the day when the producer wanted to film, Stern was preparing to head out of town. “It was a super quick turnaround, so I lucked out,” Nash Seaton said.
When reached by Travel Market Report, Nash Seaton said the opportunity had made her nervous, but that she received some media tips from a fellow travel agent who had public relations experience. The filming was done at ABC’s studio in Durham, as Seaton is a home-based agent, and she has three dogs in the home.
“We talked a lot about trips [Wilson] wants to take, and they were great to work with,” Nash Seaton said. “I think I was able to articulate that it isn’t always about the lowest price. It’s about the service, connections, my working with a salesperson at an all-inclusive who will get on with me in five minutes versus a traveler sitting on hold for an hour.”
Getting your message across
During the TV interview, Nash Seaton mentioned how travel agents will work extra hours to ensure that their clients are receiving the best value if a supplier publishes a special offer after the client has booked. She referenced Disney’s annual meal package promotion that regularly wakes agents up in the early morning this time of year to secure special discounts and add-ons that are available only through a brief booking window.
“Most of the time, our clients wake up seeing an email that says, ‘Hey, you saved money,'” Nash Seaton told ABC. The segment was taped the day after the Disney meal promotions broke. “Agents like me were getting up at least once a night to check, for two days straight, so I was working on less sleep,” Nash Seaton told Travel Market Report.
Nash Seaton, who started the National Association of Career Travel Agents (NACTA) Raleigh chapter about a year ago, also reminded ABC’s viewers that price isn’t everything, and that travelers should look for the overall value they are receiving for their travel dollar.
"Travel agents can help with troubleshooting when suppliers don't come through, in cases of bad weather, labor strikes, lost luggage, flight delays and cancellations," Stern said in the online version of the same story. "If there's an issue at a hotel or with a car rental, we can often resolve it. We can explain what types of travel protection plans are the best for your type of trip."
Self-promotion helps their businesses
Nash Seaton said she did see some sales leads come through her website’s lead request form from the Raleigh area the day the segment ran and believes some sales leads from California indicate the piece ran on a local ABC station there, as well. She has five agents with her firm and is passing the leads onto them.
“Facebook has been my social media best friend for my business,” Stern said. “The secret, as simplistic as it sounds, is to post interesting stuff on social media, befriend the local media and help them out, and bring your peers in to help support you. It’s timing, patience and persistence.”
Stern said he received two random inquiries Wednesday, and he is researching whether they came from the story. Meanwhile, he and Nash Seaton are posting the piece on their social media feeds to keep the promotion going.
“I’m very happy with the way things turned out. There isn’t any reason why another agent can’t do this in Chattanooga; or Topeka, Kansas; or Olympia, Washington,” Stern said.