In this day and age we have all experienced booking holidays our at least once or twice online, we have become somewhat virtual masters of our own online destiny, few apart from road trippers ever left home without connecting with at least one flesh-and-blood travel rep. Now it seems like a breeze to booked your flight, hotel, or a tour package online. But can the internet beat the human experience? Read this article in Spanish.
Recently I put that to the test by setting out to find if booking online was a better deal than using a travel agent for my next holiday. For me to find the best price on a two-week Oahu vacation for two, a friend of mine Shea Larssen at Vista travel in Utah, came in more than $350 dollars lower than Portland friend Laura Solano. Solano used her favorite online booking sites, Travelocity and Expedia. Larssen leveraged wholesale rates.
The biggest savings were on the hotel stays, just one of many advantages of working with an agent, says Larssen. “Naturally I’m biased”, she adds, laughing.
“but there is no question that the right agent is essential in booking trips that are more complicated than, say, a simple Seattle to San Francisco return trip. Agents can do the heavy lifting in terms of multiple connections, airport transfer, group travel, accommodations and essential documentation. One big bonus is that you’re getting an advocate who has your back every step of your holiday.
Another way agents trumps the online experience is Research assistance. Thanks to familiarization trips and frequent holiday outings, most agents have traveled extensively. Shea herself goes to the Mediterranean once a year and has led tours to Peru, Panama, South Africa and Croatia among other destinations. This been-there expertise can help clients separate wheat from chaff. (Every holiday property looks great on the web, of course. As Shea, who normally books hotels based on the web reviews, notes, ” I have no idea where I’m staying, but the photos looks nice”).
Itinerary building challenge agents and watch them shine at putting together day-by-day agendas complete with multiple reservation confirmations. That’s days of research and pouring over tourism websites off your plate.
Agents spend their lives writing their own renditions of the Hank Snow classic “I’ve Been Everywhere. ”Each has their share of hot tips in their areas of specialization, whether it’s the scoop on a new cruise ship, a great restaurant in Vancouver or the latest exhibit at Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum. And when it comes to bottom-line pricing, agents can call on their industry clout, volume discounts and knowledge of seasonal policies to deliver affordability.
Paperwork is make-or-break for stress-free holidays. It’s a surprise to many clients, for instance, that European and Asian countries require that Canadian passports be valid for three to six months following a trip’s conclusion. Agents take the guesswork out of visas, medical/cancellation insurance and international driving permits, and they’re go-to authorities on currency, customs, safety, airline schedule changes and immunization requirements.
If things go haywire, agents serve as troubleshooters who can guide clients through cancelled reservations. missed flights and lost baggage. In the wake of recent disasters like the Japan tsunami or the New Zealand earthquake, agents immediately got busy tracking down clients and ensuring they were safe to the relief of friends and family back home.
No question the internet is a miraculous tool to do your research,. It is good to do some preliminary research before you walk into an travel agency looking for your next destination, this way it gives you a pile of questions to ask the agent. The wonderful thing is that these first encounters can be the start of a fruitful and collaborative relationship that endures through many years and holiday adventures.