It’s a much debated question, and the answer depends on factors like the complexity of your travel needs, your knowledge of the idiosyncrasies of the travel business, and the amount of time you’re willing to invest in your own travel planning.
“There is no doubt that today’s travellers have more options than ever before, from destinations, packages and pricing to shopping and booking methods. But the most important decision a traveller can make is selecting the right travel agent,” says Chris Russo, president and chair of the American Society of Travel Agents.
Russo’s organization suggests several reasons why travellers should consider using the services of a professional travel agent:
Time & Service
Talking face-to-face with a travel expert can reduce the hours you have to spend in front of a computer screen. Researching destinations and reading reviews can be lots of fun – and travel agents love educated customers — but the process of matching up flights, accommodations, times and prices is far more tedious. A good agent has the tools to take care of the transactional part of the deal quickly and accurately, usually for the same or a better price you’ll find on your own.
“If you have a problem with a particular part of your travel experience, the agent is there to act on your behalf to see that restitution is made.” ASTA’s right: it’s nice to have someone to call when little emergencies crop up, from not getting the type of room you were promised to finding out that your tour operator or charter airline has gone bust.
Agents are there to make sure you get where you want to go, when you want to go and for the lowest price. They can decipher the jargon and codes of travel, so you don’t have to.
Even though agents earn commission on some of the products they sell, their job is to work for you, not the supplier. Happy customers are repeat customers, so your satisfaction is paramount. Ask an agent up front about any additional fees, including service fees.
There are fewer travel agencies today than there were a decade ago. But those who are in business today tend to be specialists in various types of travel or destinations. A Canadian organization similar to ASTA – the Association of Canadian Travel Agencies (ACTA), has an agency directory you can access through its website. You can search by specialty as well as location.
“Being a travel agent is more than just selling travel. It takes training, attention to detail and expertise to keep clients happy and coming back,” says Russo. “Travel agents are there for their clients before, during and after the trip, and when the unexpected happens. We provide value, expertise, convenience and personal service to our customers and understand that travel planning isn’t just about places, it’s about people.”
Illustration Credits: Sean Kapitain