Why use a travel agent?

What does a travel agent do? There are tons of blogs about "why should you use a travel agent?". The advice ranges from - “a travel agent saves you money", to “travel agents save you time" and always include "travel agents have your back”. And all of this is true. We do. But I get asked almost every day what a travel agent does, so here is my explanation.

I spend over 1000+ classroom hours per year attending destination workshops, travel conferences and resort webinars to stay educated on the vacations that I plan. I travel anywhere from 30 to 90 days per year away from my family to inspect the resorts you will go to on vacation. I cultivate relationships with travel industry executives, hotel general managers, resort & cruise line sales teams and most of the staff at the places you will go to relax and have fun. I take countless hours to interview clients about their vacations, always trying to figure out how to make them better for others. I network with other top travel professionals to stay in-the-know about brands, closures, construction, seaweed and political unrest in the most popular places that people go to on vacation. And some of those that you don’t. In recent years I have joined facebook groups for every popular resort so I can keep an eye on what people are saying day-to-day for extended periods of time. Not just what people are saying the 2-3 weeks before you want to go there.

People usually want to plan their vacations January through May for the entire year so during those months, I work 12-14 hours a day to accommodate. I meet with honeymooners on Sundays or in the evenings because they are so busy planning a wedding that it is the only time that they can come into the office. I email people back and forth sometimes up to 100+ emails helping them decide on which vacation they should go on. Things like where, when, what room and everything else in between. I have counseled people on who to invite and not invite, how to surprise the kids and tell them that they are going to Disney and how to include the friend who can’t afford the trip but still wants to go. I help married couples who want to plan an anniversary trip do it without getting divorced. (I often get asked if I also “play” marriage counselor and the answer is a resounding YES! You would be amazed how many people can’t agree on where to go on vacation.)

A lot my time is spent marketing because there is still a huge population that does not understand what we do or the value of our free service. Yes, free. This is where people get confused. Some travel agents do charge a fee. I do not. Why? The real reason is that I am a helper and my passion is planning vacations. I love to share information! I would do this for free if I was a trust fund baby without bills to pay but I don’t need to double dip. Truth be told, every resort, hotel and cruise line builds a commission into their pricing. When you book with me, they pay me a commission. If you book online, they pay that website a commission. If you book direct, they keep that commission. So regardless, YOU are paying it. I don’t want to ask you to pay it twice by charging a fee. Does that make me ignorant? Maybe. Do some people come to us for vacation planning and then never book? (i.e. we don’t get paid for our time) Yep. Does it happen often? To me, not so much. I connect with most people that contact me about vacation planning and they are happy to work with me. That is enough for me. Once people allow me to plan one vacation for them, they are usually clients for life. And they tell their friends their little “secret”. This has helped me tremendously to grow our client base.

So all of that is great for the big picture, right? But what about YOUR vacation? What do I actually do for each client and their individual trip? I don’t BOOK your vacation. I don’t even just plan it. I design it. I think for you. I answer questions you didn’t know you had. You don’t know what you don’t know, right? I advise on everything from when you should travel to when you should book. Where you should fly from and how long you should be gone. What resort is best for you and which room is worth the money. Which excursions you would enjoy the most and what to pack. I suggest travel insurance and tell you why it’s important. I make sure you have transportation from the airport to the resort. I contact hotel staff to let them know if you are celebrating something special. I monitor flight schedule changes and if an airline changes your layover from an hour to six hours, I stay on hold for 2 hours trying to find something better. One of the things I enjoy the most is getting better seat assignments than what your airline’s computer system assigned you. Most people don’t even think about where they are sitting until the day before or the day of the flight. I think about it the day we reserve your flights and take the time to put you in the most desirable part of the aircraft available. (It is so satisfying to me knowing that my clients are not stuck in a middle seat in the back of the plane even if they never know that is where they would have been, otherwise!) I remind you to check your passport expiration date and tell you if it needs to be valid 6-12 months after your trip. (Yep, that’s a thing. Some countries require that!) Usually about a month before you depart, I send you tons of tips and tricks to help make the most of your experience. A few days before your trip I will remind you to double check where your passport is and to check in online for your flight. For people who have never flown, I will show them how to do that. So many of the things that I will do for your vacation is behind the scenes and you may not even know, but I have your back. I fight for you to make sure everything goes as smoothly as possible. I can’t control weather or flight delays or lost luggage but anything that I can control, I will. In your favor.

Some examples of the “insider" information that I share with my clients would be: when I’m planning a honeymoon, I suggest not leaving the very next day after the wedding and all of the reasons why. When I’m booking a trip to Disney World, I let families know if they need hopper passes or a meal plan and the pros and cons to both. For someone going to Jamaica, I will always suggest a VIP airport meet & greet service that saves tons of time at the airport upon arrival. My clients traveling to Paris get my help with “skip the line” tickets for the Eiffel Tower. Cruisers always love our advice on shore excursions and options for booking tours with our partners that have more options than what the cruise line offers. In St Lucia I connect travelers with my favorite private driver for a much better transportation experience since the distance from the airport to some resorts can be long and treacherous. Hawaii has many resorts that are very far from the beach but most don’t highlight that on their website. I always divulge that up front. Most people are not aware that Costa Rica isn’t really a beach destination and more fitting for adventure seekers. If you are a beach lover, I will point this out before you book. Certain resorts in Mexico are currently fighting a terrible seaweed invasion. I try to monitor that and take those resorts off the list when possible. (Although sometimes Mother Nature has other plans). Our clients get insider information and local connections in just about any destination in the world!

Even though I love it, vacation planning is not a hobby for me. I know that our industry is full of part time, side-gig, hobbyists that “play” travel agent and I am sure they are wonderful people but I hope that the information here has helped you see the difference between a true travel professional and those who do it “just for fun". Most states do not require a travel agent to have a license or anything to set them apart from anyone else and I wish that they did but until then, I will continue to shout from the rooftops what a “real” travel agent does and the difference between us, a website and someone’s cousin who just loves cruising and offers to help you plan yours. If you hire a professional accountant, hairdresser, realtor, mechanic, lawyer or lawn care company, you should also find a travel PROFESSIONAL if you want to make sure your vacation is one to remember and not one that you wish you could forget!

Keziah Bollinger