A new year can be a time for change, reflection and improvement. A desire to improve my writing skills prompted me to review previously published articles to learn how I might enhance future articles. While scanning, I found this piece originally titled “Travel Agents in this Era”, written and published in February 2013. Several thoughts immediately crossed my mind; the first, “good gravy, have I really been writing this column for 4 years?” The second, “where did the time go!?!” The third thought was that this particular topic of Travel Agent use was still very relevant. Four years later, potential clients still call the agency seeking help arranging trips and the first question is often a sheepish “are people still using Travel Agents?” The answer remains a resounding “Yes, absolutely!” The number of bookings that we’re processing at the agency has surpassed the best year we previously enjoyed in 2001. That was prior to the tragic events of September 11 when travel came to an abrupt stop and the general population’s eventual discovery of Expedia. As a reminder, Expedia is also a Travel Agency, minus the local office. In comparing notes with other Travel Agents in the surrounding areas, they too, report that their 2017 booking numbers were up, way up and 2018 is starting strong. That’s good news for the economy, good news for us in the travel industry and even better news for you. There are many options available to help you with your vacation planning. Some things have changed over the last 4 years. Bookings for river cruises have definitely increased and Destination Weddings have continued to experience a surge in popularity. I hope you enjoy this encore article and that a wonderful year filled with new adventures awaits you.
Someone recently asked me if I and my kind are extinct. By “my kind” they were referring to Travel Agents. Well, honestly I don’t know. How does extinct feel? I assume the user was referring to the competition from online booking websites that today’s traditional Travel Agent has to take into consideration. However, unless you’re booking directly with an airline, then chances are, you are booking with a Travel Agent. They just happen to be an Online Travel Agency, also known as OTAs, without an office for you to visit and without brochures for you to thumb through. Travel Agents have evolved and adapted to new channels of retail distribution. Most have web sites, Many are engaged in Social Media. But if you really want to be social you can stop in and meet us face to face. Planning travel is fun. Sharing that excitement with someone who plans travel professionally adds to the excitement and definitely adds a different dimension to the conversation. Some of us have traditional offices while some of us have decided that we wanted the more personal environment of inviting you into our home offices. Unlike the average consumer, we in the industry eat, drink and breathe travel on a daily business while the average traveler increases their immersion usually only when preparing for a trip. Our idea of after work fun is meeting with the representative of a large cruise line to hear about their latest ship board products and promotions or new itineraries. I can almost hear you saying “boy, those Travel Agents really know how to party!”. Most Travel Agencies in Dutchess County have annual sales that would make other retail establishments envious. Yes, we talk about it and no, I don’t believe that we are falsely inflating our numbers in an attempt to flex our muscles at each other. We even consult with each other for special recommendations that we can trust and find that our working relationships are improved because of our interaction. It’s not unusual for a local Travel Agency to call me for a suggestion on Costa Rica because I’ve been there and they might not yet have had the chance. They will reciprocate when I want a professional suggestion for a client who plans on visiting a locale that hasn’t yet made it on to my itinerary. Let’s be real, if I simply travelled all the time, I would never be in my office to help others book their trips.
What exactly does a Travel Agent do? They stay current on developing trends and emerging destinations. They go from hotel to hotel in order to compare features and determine which would be best for their clients. Travel Agents also read trade papers and study and regularly attend travel conferences and product seminars on site to be able to say that they’ve been there and done that. Does it cost more to book through a traditional Travel Agent? That’s a question with several answers. I can attest that we are all price conscious. We want our clients to get the best value for their dollar. It is true that sometimes Online Travel Agencies will trade advertising space for a much better product rate than available on the open market. However, you also trade selection to a limited inventory in return for that better price. I know because I’ve tried to recreate some of my own journeys on line and in many cases, couldn’t.
How do you find a “good” Travel Agent? Well, you can start by asking your friends for a good recommendation. You can check with organizations such as ASTA (American Society of Travel Agents) who have strict guidelines of standards that Agencies must meet in order to be considered a member. Locally, there’s a group called Hudson Valley Travel Professionals of which I am also a member. This is a group of competing Travel Agencies who meet regularly, not to check out the competition, but to discuss emerging trends in travel, business challenges and how to be better at our trade. Along the way, we became friends and sometimes even travel together. Many of us have taken our special interests and developed them into specialties. My agency, Embassy Travel, specializes in Vacations and Honeymoons. I, personally, have an affinity for travel that allows viewing animals in their natural habitat. Speaking of viewing animals in their natural habitat, I invite you into my office or into the offices of any Dutchess County Travel Agent. Come see what we can do to make your next trip even better. I’m sure that you’ll find that we “dinosaurs” are far from extinct and as a matter of fact, plan on being around until the next era.