Is the Internet Killing the Travel Agent?

Almost every industry has been affected by the growth of the Internet; some positively, some negatively and some both. Travel agents fall into the “both” category. The ever growing amount of travel information that was at the disposal of travel agents, now, with the power of the Internet, is also available to the layman internet user. Want to learn about a cruise; read reviews, watch videos about the ship, the ports, the excursions, the food, the shopping, etc? Simple, just Google it.

Wait…isn’t that what the travel agent is supposed to provide? They’ve subscribed to all the magazines and journals, and have compiled all this knowledge to maximize the vacation experience for their clients. Well, these same magazines and journals are now available online in some form or another to anyone that knows how to use Google.

So, is the Internet killing the travel agent? Well let’s just say there is some natural selection at play. Good, professional travel agents will maintain their clientele. The travel agent that has taken time to craft their skill including learning how to use the internet to their advantage (e.g. leveraging social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter) will be fine. They can combine their internet savvy with their personal knowledge of cruises, flights, resorts, etc., to provide the personal touch that is absent from many reviews, critiques and online journals. People like to get advice from knowledgeable people that they feel comfortable with. Sometimes, even if they have to pay more to get it.

Type “discounted cruise” into your favorite search engine and you will find more websites than you can count. Some sites even have price guarantees to insure you are getting the “best deal”. Can a travel agent match, let alone beat the prices on these sites? Maybe, but with the volume buying power that some of these sites have it can be tough. So is that personal attention and knowledge worth it? That depends on the customer. For people that love to plan their vacation and don’t mind the research that goes into it, a travel agent may not be necessary. If these folks enjoy navigating the web and can find reliable sources for information about their vacation options and a trusted online vendor, why not?

However, not everyone has the time or patience to jump from site to site, and read review after review, and put them altogether, take price into account, and all other criteria, and make a decision about where their vacation dollars will be spent. These folks would be wise to simply have a professional help them plan their vacation. After all, vacation time is limited and enduring a bad one to potentially save 10-15% may not be the best choice.

So whats a vacationer to do? First, inform yourself. Ask yourself a few questions before going to a travel professional: What do you want out your vacation – R&R, excitement, new experiences? How much vacation time do you have? How much are you willing to spend? Next, do a few simple searches and get a general sense of your vacation options and prices. At this point, you can decide whether a conversation with a travel agent makes sense.

As a wise man once told me: “Don’t pay $10 for a $5 bird”. Arm yourself with information that will help you get the best deal for the best vacation your money can buy. Now take a trip… you deserve it.

Reasons to Work With International Travel Agents

Today, there are so many websites and online resources that allow you to book vacations across the globe. Many people forget that international travel agents offer you so much more than a website could. While they are confident at times, when you’re spending a significant amount of money on a trip out of the country, a trained professional can really help you make the most of your time and money.

You might think that you’ll save more time and money when looking online, but so much of that time is searching for the best possible deal. Sometimes, you can spend hours searching through various sites looking and calculating the best possible deal. With international travel agents, all that hard work is done for you. They talk to you about your budget and try to look for deals that are at or below your budget.

Bundling is also a very popular service that online agencies will try and set you up with. They say you’re getting a great deal when you buy a flight and book a hotel at the same time, but international travel agents often have entire vacation packages that they can find for you! Your agent generally receives exclusive information and access to hotel and travel promotions that are not available on the web, too.

One thing that online travel sites may or may not do is look for the best deal just outside the place you are looking to visit. If you’re looking to visit a major international city, there are often towns that are a quick bus or train away. Your agent can find the best deals on places to stay that meet your needs and are close enough to more expensive destinations that you can enjoy the best of both.

To make the most out of your trip, you could research all there is to do at your destination or you can sit down with your international travel agents to plan an itinerary of activities. This helps you plan ahead so you know you’ll have enough money for all the things you want to do before you even pack your bags. In addition to planning adventures and excursions, you can even make dinner reservations in advance. If you want to be more flexible with your time, they can create a folder of information that you can browse at your leisure so that you have all the information you’ll need without having to spend time researching things to do while you’re there.

Lastly, there are ways to protect yourself while you’re travelling internationally. Many travellers choose to convert their currency before they leave the country with international travel agents to get the best rate. They can also arrange for travellers checks. Insurance will be important, too. They can help you review your options and advise you on the best plan for your trip.

While there is a wealth of information on the internet, nothing beats a one-on-one meeting with a real live person. International travel agents in Cleveland have the knowledge, skill, and resources that can help you plan a successful vacation.

Online Travel Agent – What Does That Mean?

Once upon a time, in a place not far away, but in an era long since forgotten, there was a magical thing called a full service gas station. Do you remember? People would actually come out and pump your gas for you! It may sound like just a fairy tale, but it’s true, it really did happen!

Now days, our travel agents are going the way of the full service gas station. People just don’t have time anymore, time to go in and meet with a travel agent, time to go over options, basically – they don’t have time for full service. Online travel agents are all around us now, on the internet. They are convenient, but not quite the full service “station” we are used to when making our travel plans.

What is an online travel agent? An online travel agent is more like an online booking resource. It is any website that you can go to make travel arrangements. I am sure most of you have visited a site like this. You can log in, do multiple searches for flights, hotel rooms, car rentals etc. and place your order online – very convenient!

Online travel agent bookings sites are helpful in many ways; people can explore all of their different options for travel right in one spot. If you are looking for a flight to Europe, for example, and your route is flexible, users can map out different itineraries online. Then, the user can pick which works best for them and make a decision about what they want to do. Also, the user gets exposed to options that they may not have thought of before; therefore broadening their horizons of what type of travel arrangements are available to them.

Another pro for using an online travel agent website is the wide variety of products that they offer. Not only can a customer browse airfare, car rental, and hotel options. Travel insurance, airport shuttles, and tour tickets are also available for purchase. This is very helpful to an online travel planner, as they can cover most of their travel planning needs in one visit to a website.

After booking a confirmation on a travel website, the customer will receive an email with confirmations and contact information. The information that is provided to the customer usually includes information about any E-tickets, car rental policies (or where to go to look for the policies), and provides information on what to do if the travel plans change. All of this information right at the fingertips of the travel planning consumer.

Many people wonder if booking these types of travel arrangements online is safe. Yes – it is. Websites spend a lot of time and productivity making sure that their payment systems, whether outsourced or not, are safe. It is important for their reputation to provide reliable payment systems and to maintain secure sights. Bad news travels fast, and if a website wasn’t taking care of their customers, it wouldn’t take long for the world to notice.

Taking from personal experience I have never had a problem with booking with an online travel agent. I have been booking travel online for over ten years and I can’t say that I have had one problem! I have even found that after booking my super cheap airfare on a we site, after I received my reservation information via email, it was s easy to tweak my reservation details with the actual airline after the fact. I have never had a situation where I have paid for my booking online, and had it not be legitimate when I showed up for the reservation, either. Basically, booking online with an online travel agent website is an easy, affordable, and safe way to book your travel.

Online travel agents may seem scary to some. With news about security breaches and privacy issues, I can’t blame people for being shy about booking travel plans online. I have to say though, give it a try! You are bound to have a great and educational travel planning experience. And who knows, it might even be fun!

The Benefits of Using a Qualified Travel Agent

It always amazes me when I’m in the market or elsewhere around town and run in to a lifelong friend who tells me, “I just got back from a cruise”. As the owner of a travel agency you’d think they wouldn’t want me to know about their trip, since they didn’t book it with me.

I always continue a conversation like this with the question, “Did you use a travel agent to book your trip so you’d get the best value?” Quite often the response indicates that the vacationers booked their cruise directly with the cruise line.

When you need legal advice, you call an attorney. When you need your taxes done, you send them to your CPA. When you are ill, you go to the doctor. So it only makes sense that you go to a travel agent when you need help planning a vacation.

Many times a loyal client who has booked with me for years calls, and almost as a parishioner talks with his priest or pastor, says, “I have a confession to make. I decided to book my last cruise online. I’m sorry and I will never do it again. It was a good lesson for me to understand why I’ve always relied on you in the past. Let me tell you what happened…” From there they go on to tell me their particular story of what went wrong on their vacation.

Why is it recommended that people use a travel agent? Perhaps the following comments will help.

Cost. Perhaps the biggest misconception I see among the general public is the thought, “If I book directly through the cruise line, they won’t have to pay the agent and they will pass the savings on to me.” Think about that for a moment. Do you think a travel consultant would sell a cruise line that undercuts their prices? Of course not! Cruise lines depend on travel agents to fill their ships. So they give travel agencies tools to help them sell more cruises! In many cases the rate given to the consumer will be the same through the cruise line as it is through the travel agent. But in my fifteen years in the business I’ve never seen a cruise line undercut the price I have provided for a client.

Added Benefits. Even if a travel agent is only able to get you the same price as the cruise line, in most (but not all) cases he or she will be able to get added benefits. An agent with years of experience may know ways to get a rate even lower than that shown by the cruise line via a discount or upgrade. He or she may be able to provide a gift such as a shipboard credit, a bottle of wine or some other amenity. That said, consumers should not expect their agent to get an added amenity on every cruise or vacation.

Price Adjustments. We always encourage our clients to book their cruise as early as possible. Ideally, we recommend that people hold their cabins as soon as the sailing is announced for sale. In a normal economy, the best rates and best cabin location selection are offered at this time. As the ships fill up, the cruise lines raise the rates. Does it happen sometimes that rates go down as the cruise date gets closer? Of course this happens. It is normally the exception rather than the rule. Many agencies, like ours, check the rates for our clients regularly. If the fares have been reduced prior to the final payment date, we make sure our clients’ invoices are adjusted. (NOTE: After the final payment date, most cruise lines have policies wherein those who are already booked cannot have their rates adjusted.)

Time. Some people may have nothing better to do than to spend hours researching the Internet with the goal to save a few dollars. Sometimes they are able to do so. Often there is a catch. But those who trust their travel consultant know that they will do the work to get the best deal for their clients without wasting time scouring the Internet.

Added Savings. When booking a cruise there are so many other cost factors involved. And inexperienced consumer can make a lot of mistakes that can be prevented through the help of an experienced travel professional. What are the resources for a pre-cruise hotel stay? Are there other options besides the shore excursions offered by the cruise lines? Do we have to use cruise line air? Why do we need travel insurance? These are just a few of the many questions your travel agent can answer for you. One example that comes to mind was a client who was going on a luxury cruise in Europe. They wanted business class air and initially signed up for this through the cruise line. The agent used one of his other resources and found them business class air for less money…enough money for them to spend two nights in a luxury hotel in Istanbul before they boarded their ship.

Experience. Perhaps this is the most valuable feature of using a veteran travel agent. Those who search for a cruise to a certain destination and only look at the price may be headed for an unpleasant experience. An experienced agent will help clients find the cruise line that is right for them based on their needs, tastes and expectations. Just like there are two-star and five-star hotels, there are budget and luxury cruise lines. Just like there are hotel rooms that are next to the ice machine and traffic noise, there are cabins on cruise ships that may be less desirable than others.

An experienced travel agent should be able to find the right cabin on the right cruise line to the right destination, all at the right price for his or her client. There is so much more value and savings to using an experienced travel consultant than simply having them use their knowledge to get the best rate.