I’m a millennial and I’ll admit that growing up in the age of technology, my days of consulting a travel agent are but a distant memory. Many of my travels have actually been booked online, either directly with the travel provider or through an Online Travel Agency [OTA]. As a budget conscious traveller, the reason for this is simple: upfront cost. Booking online generally avoids the need to pay service fees. If you were wondering, OTAs are web-based marketplaces that allow users to independently search and book travel services – think Expedia or Viator. OTAs form relationships with a multitude of suppliers, then aggregate the offers so that consumers can compare prices online. While sometimes OTAs do undercut the supplier on price, their offers are generally comparable with booking direct. Once a sale is made, the OTA collects commission from the supplier and suppliers often prefer this to selling direct, because it cuts down on personnel costs. So, with the ability and incentive to book all your travel online, why should you use a travel agent?
I’ve worked in the travel industry for my whole career. When I book personal travel online I have a fair idea of what to expect, but not everyone has this same level of expertise and that’s when you should consider a travel agent. While an OTA will present you with countless options to sift through, a travel agent will consider your personal circumstances and narrow your options to a few relevant, reputable recommendations. Travel agents can quickly compare various products and destinations because they’ve experienced them first-hand or know someone who has and unlike booking direct, travel agent recommendations are generally unbiased. What’s more, travel agents spend their free time researching so they have the experience to quickly benchmark each offer or make suggestions that you may never have previously considered. Just like visiting a doctor or an accountant, travel agents provide professional advice guaranteed by professional indemnity insurance, but unlike other services that advice is generally offered obligation-free. So, when you’re faced with fine print and travel jargon, it makes financial sense to seek guidance.
Travel agents do generally charge a service fee when a booking is made. That fee directly covers the travel consultation time, but indirectly it covers the time invested in building relationships with suppliers to source you the best deals. Those relationships mean travel agents can access hidden offers, such as agency-exclusive inventory or group rates and price-matching. Like OTAs, travel agents make commission from sales and you benefit from economies of scale or purchasing power. However unlike OTAs, travel agents can uniquely tailor-make your dream holiday package at wholesale component prices for a smaller mark-up on each item, meaning you pay less in total than buying each component online at retail prices. Importantly, when you book through an agent you are protected by local consumer laws, which in Australia means no hidden costs. A travel agent is much more than a salesperson though. Their goal is to add you to their database and get to know you as a person, so you become a repeat customer. That’s why, unlike booking online, you can expect a travel agent to occasionally personalise your journey with special touches like complimentary bag tags, champagne or upgrades.
When you use a travel agent or an OTA, your agreement is with the agency, rather than the travel provider. This means that you’ll always liaise with the middle man. That’s important to you because travel providers and OTAs often base their call centres offshore, meaning that when you book with an agent you are working with a trusted local. Moreover, travel agents are exclusively trained to personally manage your booking from the point of sale right through to the completion of travel. So, when the unexpected happens, like natural disaster or pandemic, your travel agent can use their local industry connections to advocate on your behalf. Even better, the agent will often know about a problem before you do with their insider knowledge to forecast disruptions, reporting capability to identify affected travellers and systems to make changes direct with the supplier: ultimately saving you lengthy wait times on hold and securing you the best outcome first. Finally, working in the travel industry is more than a job for most – it’s a passion, so in emergencies agents will often assist outside business hours at no additional service charge.
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When the most tech-savvy travellers and major corporations continue to rely on travel agents, it’s clear that the long-term value of doing so outweighs the short-term cost saving of booking online. If you would like to know more about how professional travel advice could benefit you, feel free to contact me anytime. Did you know that itravel is a network of independent franchises and travel agents, meaning that our expert advice is of the highest quality? Tell us your travel dreams and discover the itravel difference today.