Travel industry demystified

Notes from an insider

If I were you, the Canadian traveller, I’d feel utterly lost as to who is selling what when it comes time to book my winter getaway.

You see ads, hear jingles, surf the web, click on offers and watch videos from a barrage of travel providers. But who is responsible for what? Whom do I contact if I have an issue, need to make a change or have a question about something? Here is a rundown on the players and their roles in the travel game.

Tina the travel agentTravel Agents 
Travel agents have access to an enormous scope of travel products. In some cases, we get a slim commission for our sales directly from the travel provider. But in many others, we have to charge a transaction fee.

The key word here is agent.  We are the middleman using our expertise to assist you with your holiday plans. We are not the tour operator (more below). We are responsible for advising you on the best travel choice for you, and making your reservations for a package, flight or cruise. We should always be your first point of contact and your final recourse should you experience a problem.

Tour Operators
Family travelTour operators arrange package sun holidays, bus tours and cruise packages that include airfare, hotel and more. Their product has traditionally been sold only through travel agents, but with the emergence of online tools, they may now also sell directly to the public.

Unlike travel agents, tour operators only sell their company’s product lineup, whereas an agent has access to all product offered by all travel providers. Tour operators who sell package holidays to the sun include Transat Holidays, Sunwing Vacations, Signature Vacations, Sunquest Vacations, Air Canada Vacations and Conquest Vacations.

Charter Airlines
Charter airlines sub-contract their services to various tour operators and schedule flights based on seasonal needs i.e. south in winter and Europe in summer. Some are owned by the tour operator, others work with a variety of wholesalers. Examples of charter companies are Skyservice, Air Transat, Canjet, and even Air Canada ‘charters’ some of its flights to Air Canada Vacations.

Scheduled Airlines 
These are likely the least confusing and best understood industry players. Air Canada, WestJet, British Airways, American Airlines, etc. are all aircraft operators.They often sell their seats directly to the public without the assistance of an intermediary like a travel agent. A travel agent can and will reserve airline tickets for you, most of the time charging a nominal transaction fee.

From a Holiday Inn to the all-inclusive island resort or a service apartment, there are plenty of options. You can book directly or through a travel agent or do your own research.  There are plenty of research tools available on the web.

Car Rentals
There are many ways to rent a car.  You can walk up to the counter at an airport, use the local rental office in your neighbourhood, call your travel agent, redeem your points for a voucher, etc. However you choose to rent a car, the single most important thing to look out for are the taxes and fees. They can easily double the cost of your rental. Make sure they are clearly spelled out at the outset so there are no nasty surprises at drop-off. It’s also a good idea to check with your credit card company as to what coverage they offer. It can save you a lot on insurance.

Cruise Lines 
This is easily one of the largest growth segments in the travel industry. Cruising has become extremely popular because it is a great way to visit multiple destinations, unpack once and enjoy a variety of activities, amenities, tours, meet new people and so much more. 

Your best bet when buying a cruise holiday is to consult with a cruise  specialist who has experience with the ships, categories, itineraries, and cruise lines. A good cruise agent will know what “Category 4A” on Carnival is and what the difference is between “Run of the House” and a guaranteed cabin.  They can also help narrow down the itinerary choices and suggest the best tours. And, with the high volume they produce, they can offer the best rates.

On a final note regarding the wide world of travel, if an offer sounds to good to be true, it probably is. Travel companies are like any other business – they have to make money to survive. So when in doubt, ask a travel agent for some guidance.

Happy travels!

– Jason Saracini, President, Target Vacations Limited