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If you could hire a professional to do a job for you or do it yourself, which would you choose? It probably depends on the situation. Are we talking wisdom teeth extraction, lawn maintenance or travel arrangements? Of course you visit an oral surgeon to remove your wisdom teeth. Lawn care might be your favorite weekend activity, or you might prefer to pay a landscape service to keep your lawn trimmed and green.
What about travel? Do you spend hours and hours searching the Internet for the very best travel deal? Do you really have hours to spend perusing every possible travel site? Is it really a great deal or does it just seem that way? Or do you have your very own travel agent? Yes, you heard right, I asked you if you have your very own travel professional? If you don’t, you really should.
When I’m first introduced to someone and I tell them that I am a travel agent, what do think I’m asked? I’m asked if I get to travel for free! It makes me sad for the good old days when I could honestly say I do, but I don’t. Yes, once, I’ll admit, I did fly first class to Honolulu for lunch just because I could. It was the ’80s, can you really blame me?
But there’s no such thing as a free trip. Yes, we do receive invitations to preview a new cruise ship or resort or to visit a destination, but those are truly working vacations. These are called “familiarization” or FAM trips. I’m running around making notes and taking pictures, seeing as much as I can, the entire time thinking to myself, who do I know that might enjoy this resort or that destination? On my first visit to Cancun, Mexico, I toured 12 hotels in one day, in August, wearing my business-appropriate attire of a dress, pumps and pantyhose. I did recently return from one such trip to Australia and New Zealand. Thank goodness it was fall and the dress code is a little more casual – pantyhose optional. Stay tuned for more details on those amazing destinations.
Even when I do go on vacation with my family, I still want to see as many hotels as possible, or explore the entire ship –anything and everything I can do to learn as much as possible.
The second question I’m asked? I’m asked how someone can get my job. Everyone thinks traveling is glamorous and that it must be super-fun to do what I do. I love what I do, but it’s not for everyone. And they can’t have my job because I’m kinda attached to it.
The third question is about the Internet. What do I think about the Internet? Do I fear the Internet? Will the Internet be the demise of the travel agent as we know it? I don’t think so. And here’s why: the travel agencies that have survived through deregulation, low airfares and airlines-no-longer-paying-travel-agents-commission in the 1990s, and the 9-11 terrorist attack, and multiple airline, cruise line and tour company bankruptcies, the travel agency consolidations, and the latest recession, but they are still in business today and are stronger and leaner than ever before. We are doing more with less, just like everyone else. We’ve reinvented ourselves and continue to differentiate ourselves from the Internet.
Many of my clients wouldn’t even think of booking online. They prefer to work face-to-face with a live human being. They get to ask questions, make modifications, and they aren’t pressured to book it now, hurry or you might miss out because there’s only 3 cabins or seats or rooms left. Who needs that? I take the time to explain their options and allow them to customize their vacation. After all, it is their vacation. Yeah, the Internet can send you on an airline schedule from point A to point B, with 3 stops and 2 changes and a forced overnight, but it’s a savings of $50. Not only would I never offer that schedule, I don’t honestly know how they found it. It’s ridiculous. Just ’cause it’s possible doesn’t mean someone would or could or should do it.
In almost every instance you are paying the same price for travel, whether you book yourself or use a travel agent. The Internet-only vendors don’t want you to know that. So if all things are equal, what would you rather do? Or in the rare instance where we cost slightly more, isn’t your peace of mind worth something? My clients tell me I am. That’s why they come back and see me time after time.
Yes, you can have your very own travel agent, a trusted advisor, a professional in the field with know-how and expertize to make your vacation a great experience from start to finish. Please join me in an ongoing series of travel-industry related topics.
Meredith Fisher has 21 years of experience in the travel industry. When she graduated from Chico State she took a job at a small travel agency thinking it would be her “fun job” for a few years. Since then she’s done corporate travel, training, incentive and group travel, and everything in between, but now finds herself back where she started, living vicariously through her clients’ vacations. Meredith is still having fun and finally putting her journalism background to work. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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