The rise of the Travel Advisor
Picture this...I'm at a party and inevitably conversation turns towards what we do for a work. Telling people I'm a travel advisor usually goes one of three ways...
"That's cool...Actually you might be able to tell me how much would flights to Frankfurt be for 5 January?"
"That's nice. I don't need a travel agent. I do all my bookings on the internet."
"A travel advisor hey...do people actually still use you guys?"
Being a travel advisor in today's climate requires somewhat of a tough skin. It can be easy to feel despondent when people constantly raise doubt in the value of your chosen profession. Instead, I choose to respond by handing them a business card and asking them to give me a try next time. It is my firm belief that once you experience the value of using a reputable travel advisor you won't go back to booking online.
The internet has been both a blessing and a curse for the travel industry. With the increase in available options to make your next travel booking comes the inevitable information overload. You can literally spend hours looking from one website to the next. How do you know that what you are looking at is true? I have heard firsthand a number of stories of people being burned by websites purporting to be something they are not and deals that are simply too good to be true.
There is a common perception that using a travel advisor is more expensive. In fact, it is actually the opposite. A well-connected travel advisor should be able to secure you preferential rates with airlines, hotels and cruise lines and sometimes even an upgrade, complimentary breakfast or additional credit to use during your holiday. During my ten years in the industry I have come to realise that being a travel advisor is all about the relationships you build. And this is something that the online travel agent (OTA) just cannot compete with.
With all this in mind, just what should you be looking for in a travel advisor? These are my tips:
- If travel is all about relationships then the first key relationship has to be between you as the client and your travel advisor. Seek out recommendations. Great travel advisors are surprisingly rare and I have found word of mouth has been one of the best ways to grow my business.
- Once you have a contact, I would suggest meeting in person or at least setting up a chat on the phone. In today's virtual world, it can be easy to bypass this step, but nothing beats personal contact. The more information you can provide your travel advisor the better they can personalise your travels and provide added value. Anything from the style of travel you enjoy; examples of memorable trips and what made these destinations so memorable; as well as information about your family and what each person enjoys doing. Most people have a #bucketlist of sorts these days, and talking to your travel advisor about these destinations early on helps them to look out for special deals that will help you to achieve your travel dreams.
- Look for an advisor that is passionate about travel. Sounds like a no brainer, but the best travel advisors are those who regularly seek out additional training and knowledge. Look for an advisor with a strong presence on social media, someone who regularly travels on familiarisations and attends trade shows to expand their network of trusted partners. As much as we try, it is impossible to have been everywhere in the world. If I have not been to a given destination, I look towards my network for reliable advice and recommendations. We can also remind you to check the validity of your passport, assist you to apply for a visa and arrange essential travel insurance- things that are often not readily available on the internet.
- Look for an advisor who can provide deep knowledge about the destination. Just because a hotel is the cheapest doesn't necessarily guarantee that it is the right hotel for you. Perhaps it is better suited to families, perhaps it is in the wrong location or perhaps it is too contemporary and you prefer a traditional hotel experience. Only an advisor can tell you to book a room on the 5th floor for views of the Eiffel Tower or to try that coffee shop two streets away from your hotel or secure you a reservation in that 3-Michelin Star restaurant that is always booked out.
- It's not just about the hotel, ask your travel advisor for recommendations to really see a city. So you have booked your flights and hotel, now you need to research what to see while you are there. This is where a great travel advisor can add the most value. Sure, you can book that tour with 49 other strangers all crowding around Mona Lisa at the Louvre. Or you can ask your advisor to sort out a private treasure hunt of the Louvre that both the parents and kids will love. Or perhaps your advisor can arrange private shore excursions so that you have a private driver and guide waiting at the cruise port. The reward is the chance to skip lines and really tailor a tour to suit your own personal interests. For all those foodies out there, how about a local market tour followed by a cooking class. Perhaps, adventure is more your thing. Imagine seeing all of Paris' highlights on the back of a vespa zipping through the streets of Paris.
- Respect your advisor and their time. Just as you wouldn't visit a doctor or dentist for information and then treat the symptoms yourself, please don't take an advisor's knowledge and intellectual property and use this to book the trip online yourself. If you have found something cheaper, let your advisor know. Nine times out of ten they will be able to match or better the price you have found.
Similar to a friendship, building a relationship with your travel advisor takes time. However, the rewards for investing time in building this relationship are endless. Eventually, you have an advisor who knows you and your family at least as well as, if not better than you know yourself. They become your point of contact when things go awry- you miss your connection, your baggage doesn't make the flight from Athens to Nice, a pesky volcano threatens to disrupt your travel plans. Rather than talking to an automated machine or waiting on hold for hours, you can contact your travel advisor who will rearrange your travel plans with a minimum of fuss and cost leaving you to enjoy your holiday.
Next time you are looking to travel, support your local travel advisor and see just what benefits they can provide. I promise you will not regret it.