Travel Agents - So Many Choices, Who to Choose?
by Anna Swenson - August 8, 2018
In the 10 years that I have been in the travel industry, I have seen a huge growth of people becoming travel agents. Now, not only do you have to choose where to go on vacation, you must choose who to book your vacation with! Sadly, big host agencies take in hundreds of agents who “love to travel” or “love Disney,” who want what they think is an easy, fun part-time job, who they think get to travel for free (sorry, this is NOT true), but may not exactly have the qualifications needed to be a true travel consultant. In turn, some clients get poor service and those full-time travel professionals who take their business seriously get a bad rap.
Here are a couple of things to look for or ask a travel agent before you request them to help you book your next vacation:
1) Are they certified? What is their past work experience? Many who want to be an agent can take a quick class online and then say they are an agent, but have they taken the further steps to get personally certified in what they sell? Is the agent with a reputable agency? Are they with a Disney Earmarked Agency? Is the agent themselves a certified Sandals/Beaches or taken Royal Caribbean additional classes, for example? Do they have past experience in their background in the travel industry?
2) Does the agent have Resort contacts and Business Development/Sales Manager contacts? We all hope your vacation goes perfect, but on the chance that something goes wrong or you need help onsite or during the reservation process, does the agent have the support of the resort, vendor and sales team? A good agent spends time and their own money traveling to destinations making contacts with the resorts they sell, attending seminars, and onsite training, as well as meeting with their vendors, sales and business development managers on a consistent basis. These folks are great to have in the agent’s back pocket to (sometimes) sprinkle extra magic on a client’s special trip, get something that is hard to obtain under normal circumstances or assist in times of trouble. Who wouldn’t want that?
3) Do you have a specialty? Many agents have specialties in locations they sell. This is extremely helpful not only to the traveler but also for the agent, so they know the product inside and out. It is impossible to know the entire world, so agents that are the most helpful are those that choose a couple locations and really know the destinations, travel to the location and know the people at the resorts, cruises, etc. My specialties for example are all Disney Destinations, cruises and all-inclusive resorts. At this time, if you ask me to book a flight, rental car and hotel in Italy, I can direct you to a fellow co-worker, but I don’t personally feel comfortable selling you that trip since I do not know it well.
4) Traveled to the locations they are selling – While it may be impossible to have travelled everywhere, if you read #3, you hopefully chose an agent who knows the location you are traveling to (or have tremendous vendor partners who can help the agent out). It is important to have that agent who knows the resorts firsthand, tasted the food, saw the rooms or staterooms, and understands the feel of the area so they can identify the best trip for you. Otherwise, you might as well pick blindly online yourself! For example, I have stayed and/or visited every Disney resort, every Sandals/Beaches resort, and sailed most cruise lines. This gives me hands on experience to give advice, recommendations and feedback to choose the perfect vacation for each client and their wishes. Ask the agent where they have personally traveled to in the past 5 years and listen to their response.
5) Social Media, reviews and referrals – Check out their website and social media. If they have too few “likes” (100 or under) they are either very new or not active, too many “likes” (20,000 or so) and they could be buying them, so it is not accurate. Check out their latest posts, have they not posted for months? It could be a clue they are not doing this full time or are not very active in the industry. Read the reviews from real past clients, see pictures from past client trips the agent was tagged in. Have they won any awards? Received any travel industry recognition? If you were referred to the agent, you know that is typically the best way to find a good reputable agent.
Side note on social media and travel advice that I must get off my chest: While I am totally up for getting people’s opinions, please be careful when asking your friends/family or putting on your social media asking for specific travel advice. What is good for one of your friends may not be good for you and what you are looking for. Everyone has different taste, budget, likes/dislikes, preferences and only a wonderful travel agent who ask the right questions and listen to your answers will be able to find the best place for your next vacation! Ahhh, I feel better now.
6) Do you have access to the extra companies you may need like travel insurance and tour operators?- Good, connected agents often have other choices for things like travel insurance and excursions. They are sometimes less expensive, have better coverage, less people on the tours, better tour guides, etc than those that are offered as part of the cruise or travel package.
I hope this helps you understand the travel agent industry a little better. While using a travel agent is essentially “free,” you want to make sure you pick the correct agent for you, just as you would a doctor, lawyer, or realtor. They are dealing with your hard-earned vacation dollars and memories after all!
Feel free to email me with questions: firstname.lastname@example.org 803-487-2234
The "Perfect" Vacation
When you think of a vacation, torrential rains, a fender bender 30 minutes before arriving to your destination, and your child's illness are not things you think of, is it? My family recently returned from a short trip at Walt Disney World. I am a travel agent, so as expected I had the Magic Bands ordered, the amazing hotel room booked (we stayed at Disney's Yacht Club this time and it was fabulous as always), and the dining reservations reserved.
Unfortunately, all of the mentioned above happened to us.
This got me thinking. We had two choices on how to respond. 1). We can whine and complain that we just spent however many thousand dollars and feel sorry for ourselves that our trip didn't turn out as we thought. Or 2). We can turn negatives into positives, be grateful for what we do have and make lemonade out of lemons.
As hard as it may be at the time, my advice when things do not go the way you plan on vacation is to go with choice number two. You will never have a "perfect" vacation, just like life isn't "perfect." A vacation is life, just in a different location. People get sick, weather is weather and accidents happen. If you don't get the room you paid for, missed your flight or your hotel is completely unacceptable and you booked with a wonderful travel agent like myself, absolutely politely ask for the resort manager and/or contact your travel agent to help correct the situation. If the room isn't exactly where you wanted it to be, it is not sunny 24/7, the kids get cranky (this will happen) and when things are not under your control, don't sweat the small stuff. You are on vacation! Hopefully you can get past the small issue and enjoy your trip. At least you are not home working, doing homework, cleaning, cooking, etc, right?
How did our trip turn out? The fender bender? Luckily, our car didn't even get a scratch and we were only a little bit later on our trip as planned (most importantly, everyone was safe). The illness? Negative for strep and flu - just a bit yucky feeling. The rain? Well, this was much more than the quick Florida rain - we were POURED on for many, many hours, we forgot our ponchos/umbrellas and it got cold! However, the park crowds thinned out and the kids said the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train Ride was MUCH MORE FUN in the rain. I think we made another memory. Check out the picture and tell me what you think.