What Ever Happened to Travel Agents?
What ever happened to travel agents, do they still exist? Are they extinct? Absolutely not, they are alive and thriving. Like many other industries, the internet has affected the way that travel advisors work. Years ago trip planning always included visiting a travel agency, flipping through brochures and having an agent book the trip. Now much of the booking can be done online, so many travel agents have closed their brick-and-mortar offices and do most of their business remotely.
When would someone use the services of a travel agent? Some people say always, others say never. In truth, it’s not an always or never situation. It really depends on the type of trip you’re booking. A simple airline ticket, hotel room or even a cruise can be booked online with the click of a mouse. But if the itinerary is more complicated or you’re trying to coordinate group travel, a good travel advisor can save you time – and money. Here are some examples of when you can benefit from using a travel advisor:
- Trip planning: Some people know exactly when and where they want to go. Others have no clue. They may only know that they want to take their family to a warm destination sometime between June and August. A good travel agent uses a survey/interview process to help the client determine what will work best – and will offer several options. They partner with the client to custom design the vacation.
- In recent weeks we’ve seen an unprecedented amount of natural disasters that have resulted in flight/hotel cancellations, cruise ship re-routing and much more. Stranded travelers have had great difficulty getting through to airlines, or the online travel agencies (Expedia, Travelocity, etc) to make adjustments. Many have been kept on hold until their cell phone battery died; then they have to start all over again. Those who had travel agents just had to make one call to let them handle the issues from their office. Agents have access to inside personnel at hotels, cruise lines, etc. who can get much quicker resolutions. They are your best advocates.
Specialty trips: Some trips are lengthy, more complicated and may have multiple destinations or multiple modes of transportation. A travel agent can ensure that all of the connections and fine details mesh.
- Group travel: Have you ever tried to coordinate a group trip or family reunion? It can be like herding cats. A travel agent can serve as the central point of contact and communicate itineraries, payment deadlines and so much more. They also handle all of the accounting – keeping track of who has paid, how much people still owe and what’s outstanding. When a group is small 5-10 people, it’s no problem. But when the group is large, 20 or more, it becomes much more difficult. Group members may be hesitant to give you their credit card information, so it’s much easier to use a trusted travel professional.
- Busy professionals: I’ve seen commercials for OTA (Online Travel Agencies) that will allow you to search hundreds of travel websites. In today’s fast-paced world, many people are too busy to search hundreds of travel websites. One call to a travel advisor can simply that process.
The travel landscape is constantly changing. There are daily changes to airline fees, hotel policies, TSA requirements and much more. People who only travel once or twice a year may not be aware of those changes. Travel agents study trends daily and can inform their clients about how the changes will affect them. When is a passport required? Which countries require visas? What regions require immunizations? This is information that a travel advisor can provide. Here are some examples of valuable information:
- Some American citizens don’t feel the need to get a passport since they don’t travel outside of the United States, but that is all going to change in 2018. Starting at the beginning of next year, residents in nine states will need to have passports in order to take any kind of flight, whether it is international or domestic. Those states are: Kentucky, Maine, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Washington.
- Many countries require that your passport be valid for 6 months beyond your travel date. So even if your passport is still valid, but will expire in 3 or 4 months, you won’t make it through immigration.
- Travel agents can give advice about dress codes and what is acceptable. Some countries require women to cover their heads before entering a church or mosque. In others, showing too much skin is frowned upon – so no tank tops or shorts for men or women. I few months ago I visited the Monaco Casino and they do no allow running/tennis shoes or ripped jeans. I saw several people turned away.
I’ve heard people say, “I don’t use a travel agent, I just book online.” Newsflash, if you book on a website like Expedia, Travelocity or Hotwire, your using an online travel agent (OTA). Often they are in another country, working from home or a call center.
Aren’t travel agents expensive? No. Most of their services are free to clients, since they are paid commissions by the travel vendors (except for airlines, who do not pay commissions). Some agents might charge a service fee for complicated bookings, or airline bookings, but they’ll let you know that right up front. Here’s another newsflash – you pay fees even when you book online since those fees are built into the price. For example, if you ask your travel agent to book a hotel room for you, he/she may find a rate of $199 per night, and the commission will be paid out of that rate. But if you book the same hotel room through an OTA, or directly with the hotel the rate will be the same. You’ll still pay the commission – they just keep it instead of paying the travel agent. You won’t get any additional discount for booking directly.
The same thing happens with cruise bookings. You can book directly with the cruise line. But travel agents often have access to discounted rates and extra perks that the cruise lines don’t tell customers about.
So why not take advantage of the free service offered by the travel agent?
How do you select a travel agent? Are they all the same? No, all travel agents are not “created equal”. Unfortunately, it is a loosely regulated profession. So it is important to shop around and thoroughly vet an agent before trusting them with planning your vacation. Even if someone tells you that they are a “certified travel agent” that’s not enough. They may actually have extensive experience and knowledge – or they may have just paid $99 and taken an online class to get that “certification”.
Here are some guidelines:
- Make sure they have a website.
- Make sure they have a social media presence.
- Get references from past clients, customer reviews, Yelp, etc.
- Make sure that they actually travel – a good travel agent has real travel experience.
- Find one that has knowledge about the destination(s) that you plan to visit and the type of travel that you want to do. For example, if you’re planning a destination wedding, a safari specialist won’t be of much help to you. If you want to cruise, make sure that they can give you information about several cruise lines, ships, etc.
- Find someone with a broad range of travel expertise, in hotels, resorts, cruises and current trends
- Ask them what they specialize in. Although all travel agents have access selling all travel products, most tend to specialize in destinations or types of travel. You’ll get better service when dealing with someone who is a specialist in your desired destination.
Working with a travel advisor is not right for everyone – or for every trip. But working with the right one can be priceless.
Have you been on a cruise lately? If so, you have experienced some of the great new innovations that have been introduced by the cruise lines. Of course cruising is not a new experience; it has been used for centuries to transport people and products. But the invention of the steam engine made the process much faster and the passenger ship industry began to flourish.
If you watched television in the 1970s you’ll remember a weekly series called “The Love Boat” that was set aboard a Princess Cruise ship. Each of the episodes included several story lines that revolved around the cast and crew. It provided an inside look at what vacationing onboard a cruise ship was like. It was also a great marketing tool for cruise lines.
Fast-forward to 2017 and you’ll find that cruising is no longer just a way to travel from point A to point B. The cruise game has changed completely. In the last 20 years cruise lines have continued to build bigger, more innovative ships – they have become floating cities! Onboard activities include IMAX theaters, zip lines, ice skating rinks, rock climbing walls, world-class spas, designer shops, waterslides and much more. Here are some examples:
In 2009 Royal Caribbean introduced the world’s largest cruise ships; the Oasis Class. They can carry more than 5000 passengers and 7 different neighborhoods, a 5-deck high Central Park with lush tropical gardens, a boardwalk with a full-size working carousel. Entertainment options are many and besides the usual casino and main showroom, guests can enjoy the comedy club, aqua theater, ice shows, and several nightclubs. Active cruisers can zip line, rock climb, ice skate or hit the waves on one of the FlowRider surf simulators. There is also plenty onboard for the little ones since Royal Caribbean has partnered with DreamWorks so you never know when you’ll run into someone like Shrek or Fiona.
Carnival has expanded their fleet to include activities like an IMAX theater, an onboard waterpark and even flying bicycles.
On the newest ship, the Vistaguests can enjoy SkyRide at SportSquare. It is a twin-track suspended bike course — strap in and race around for the win or just cruise for great views.
Celebrity offers modern luxury cruising and its newest ship, the Edge, is advertised as “a ship to leave the future behind”. It does exactly that with transformative spaces. As the sun sets, the groundbreaking spaces on Celebrity Edge transform to deliver completely new experiences. By day, outward-facing ocean views, ever-changing abstract artwork, and unexpected entertainment create a luxurious resort-style atmosphere. At night, ambient lighting, unique al fresco dining, and live music set the scene for energy, intimacy, and elegance.
Custom-built for the spectacular, the Norwegian Bliss will cruise Alaska and the Caribbean seasonally beginning Summer 2018.In addition to the aqua park you can also burn rubber on the largest racetrack at sea and then challenge your friends or family to some friendly competition on the Aqua Racer. Dare to whoosh over the side of the ship on Ocean Loops before dodging lasers during an exhilarating game of laser tag.
Bellissima is the newest flagship of the MSC cruise line.The two-deck inside promenade features a spectacular 260-foot-long LED dome, and is lined with places to shop, eat and drink. There are 20 bars and 10 restaurants to choose from, including specialty restaurants. For entertainment, you can enjoy 2 brand new Cirque du Soleil® shows designed especially for MSC Bellissima, and relax in the desert themed Water Park - an oasis for kids and families.
Princess, the original cruse line of the Love Boat continues to expand its fleet with its new Medallion class ships. Its latest ship, the Regal Princess will debut in November 2017. Enjoy sweeping views from one of more than 1,400 balconies on Regal Princess or stroll on the SeaWalk®, a glass-floor walkway extending 28 feet beyond the edge of the ship! From the tranquil Sanctuary, a retreat reserved for adults, to the dazzling Princess WaterColor Fantasy light and water show and more, there are diversions for every mood.
If you’re looking for an all-inclusive luxury cruise experience, look no farther than Crystal and choose from 3 different cruise types - ocean, yacht or river cruise. The award-winning Crystal Serenity has a contemporary style with a bright, modern décor. Guests can shop at chic boutiques or dine under the stars at Trident Grill, a light and airy courtyard beneath a retractable glass roof. Most striking is the lush greenery - variegated "living walls" and live olive trees under-planted with lavender.
If ocean cruising is not your thing, consider taking a river cruise. It’s a great way to experience the beauty and scenery along the world’s greatest rivers like the Danube, Rhine, Yangtze or Nile. Traveling by river, beyond the reach of roadways, you’ll discover the true nature of these fascinating lands and the people who call them home. You’ll travel with ease, unpacking just once and enjoying the ever-changing scenery along the banks as you are gently carried aboard an elegant, intimate ship to your next destination.
Disney fans that want a “magic included” cruise experience can find it on one of Disney’s world-class ships. There is something onboard for everyone with activities for children and adults-only areas as well. They even offer convenient Wave Phones that let you call and text your fellow passengers while you're onboard or at Castaway Cay (their private island) so you can always keep in touch.
If time and money are no problem, consider taking a world cruise. Sail from Los Angeles to London (120 days), Sydney to Vancouver (Australia, Asia & Alaska, 79 days), or Athens to Hong Kong (50 days). If you haven’t made vacation plans for 2018, it’s not too late to book the Princess Cruises 2018 world cruise, sailing round-trip from Fort Lauderdale where you can spend 111 days visiting 5 continents and 28 countries. However, the ship only holds 672 passengers, so it’s very likely that it is already sold out.
As you can see, there are LOTS of different cruise experiences to choose from. Cruise ships have become floating resorts. There is so much to do onboard the larger ships, that it can be difficult to experience everything. We have taken transatlantic cruises on Royal Caribbean’s mega ships, the Oasis and the Allure of the Seas and even with 12 days on the ship, we didn’t manage to do or see everything.
It goes without saying that cruising is not everyone’s cup of tea – there is no “one-size-fits-all” vacation. But cruising comes pretty darn close. Here are some of the benefits:
There is something onboard for everyone. Whether you’re a party animal who wants to be in constant motion, or a loner who prefers “me time”, there are spaces and activities for you. Even the ships that carry 5000 passengers are so well designed that there are always private nooks and crannies.
Cruises are a great way for families to travel together. There are age-specific areas and activities for all ages, so it’s a great way to vacation with the kids and still enjoy some “grown folks” time too.
Cruising offers the best value for your vacation dollar. Although many are not all-inclusive (you have to pay for alcoholic drinks, sodas), it’s still a good value. The cruise fare includes unlimited dining (in dining room, buffet and snack areas), 24 hour room service, nightly shows (we’ve seen Grease, Hair Spray and Cats with actual Broadway casts), nightclubs (no cover charge), and of course transportation between ports. The total for those activities for a 7 day vacation would be much higher than a cruise fare.
Cruising also offers an element of safety. A solo traveler who might be hesitant to stroll around a big city after dark would be perfectly safe going to dinner, a show or nightclub on a ship.
Are all cruises wonderful? Absolutely not! It is important to choose the cruise line and itinerary that fits your travel style and budget. As you can see from the list of ships and activities they are all very different. The experience depends on the ship and the itinerary that you choose. I’m not a fan of old or small ships, so I don’t book cruises on them. It’s also important to book the right cabin. I’ve heard people say that the cabin doesn’t really matter since you don’t spend much time there. Maybe it doesn’t…..to them. For me the cabin is a very important part of my cruise experience. So I want to be as comfortable as possible. I’ve heard people say that they don’t want to be “cooped up” on a cruise ship. That can happen if you’re in an inside cabin with no windows or outside light. But a cabin with a balcony provides an entirely different experience. It’s the perfect place to enjoy the beauty of the ocean in complete privacy, and enjoy beautiful scenes like this
If your idea of a vacation is a nonstop pool party, I wouldn’t recommend taking a river cruise – they tend to draw a quieter, more elderly crowd (#no turn up). Or if you are a senior who prefers to vacation with people in your age group, a spring break Caribbean cruise would not be the best choice for you.
What’s the best way to decide? Talk to an experienced travel advisor who has cruised and is familiar with all of the cruise lines. They can help you make the best choice.
The cruise industry continues to innovate and re-invent the cruise experience. It’s a great way to vacation and a great way to see the world.
When you are planning a trip the first decision is where to go. The next decision is probably who to go with. Many people prefer the independence of solo travel. Others prefer traveling with a partner or a group. Each has its benefits…and drawbacks. As a frequent traveler I have experienced and enjoyed all of them and I could write a blog on each of them. But today I’d like to focus on group travel. I have traveled with groups domestically and internationally and as a travel professional, I have even led groups. Although groups differ in size and makeup, they always contain some of the same types of people. Here are a few examples:
TAMMY THE TALKER– She talks all the time. She carries on a continuous stream of conversation, with any and everyone around her, about all kinds of topics, often that have little or nothing to do with the destination. Consequently she never hears instructions from the guide and always asks, “What did he/she say?”
TARDY TINA– She never gets anywhere on time. No matter what the meeting time is, she’s not there. After everyone has loaded onto the bus, she rushes on, disheveled apologizing to everyone and making excuses about how she forgot to set her alarm. It’s not long before she is everyone’s least favorite person in the group because they always have to wait for her. However, sometimes it backfires, since cruise ships do not wait.
CARLTHE COMPLAINER– This guy doesn’t even like travel and probably should not have gone on the trip. The weather is too hot/cold. The food isn’t up to his standards. The people don’t speak English (even though he’s in a non-English speaking country). We met a guy like this at a gorgeous midnight buffet during a Caribbean cruise. The cruise line had set out an amazing display complete with ice sculptures, petit fours and shellfish towers. As my husband and I sat down to enjoy our food we happened to be seated next to a fellow who felt it necessary to let us know how displeased he was with the cruise and how much he really preferred vacationing at hotels. Although I suspect that if he’d been at a hotel, he would have complained about that too.
THE UGLY AMERICAN– This person has not done any research about the destination and has no idea about what to expect from the food, transportation, etc. He/she has little knowledge about local customs and constantly compares everything to his/her hometown. This person is often rude to
local merchants. They have made little or no effort to learn the language of the country that they’re visiting; not even a few phrases. After all, doesn’t everyone speak English? They are especially difficult toward guides who often speak more than one language. For example, on a recent trip to Beijing our guide spoke English and of course Mandarin, her native language. When one of the group members complained repeatedly about not understanding her, she remarked, “If you’re having trouble understanding my English, I can speak to you in perfect Mandarin. “Touche! As James Michener said, “If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay at home”.
SUSIE THE SPACE CADET– The only way to describe this lady is clueless…totally clueless. She booked the trip at the last minute and did not do any research about the destination. She over packed and has much more luggage than she can possibly handle. Even with all of that luggage she did not bring the right clothes/shoes for the climate or terrain. There was a lady on our recent trip to China who did not bring an umbrella; although it was November Suzhou, Hangzhou and Shanghai are known for heavy rain during that month. She packed the wrong shoes, so she had real difficulty climbing the Great Wall in Beijing. She almost had a meltdown when we visited the Longjing Tea Garden because she’d had a traumatic experience with tea when she was a child. Yes, she traveled to China…..and didn’t like tea….smh.
The space cadet always has her cell phone in hand and often has long, very audible conversations with her friends at home. Then there’s her selfie stick. While there are no written rules about using them, a little common sense is in order. For example, she’ll stand in front of an iconic structure like the Eiffel Tower or Leaning Tower of Pisa and posethere….forever…totally oblivious to the fact that there are lots of other people who have traveled halfway around the world to take pictures in the same place.
If you have traveled in a group you’ve probably met one or two of these characters….and could probably describe a few more. So when it comes to traveling in a group, be sure to choose your travel partners wisely. As Mark Twain said, “I have found out that there ain’t no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them.”
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