I’m asked a version of this question at every social or networking event when asked what I do. People wonder how I compete with the Internet. I consider myself much more than a travel agent – I’m more of a travel “concierge” or personal vacation planner for my clients. Even though I really don’t consider the Internet as my competition, I do like to stay informed on what is happening in the industry overall.
I was listening to the radio recently and I heard one of the large online travel agency’s commercials, and their tag line was “Where You Book Matters”. I found myself surprised to agree with them for once! Although for different reasons than they were stating. They were touting their low hotel prices, but I wondered, what really matters to consumers these days? Is it truly the lowest possible price, or is it value?
I hear it in commercials all the time – “we have the lowest prices”, “if you don’t shop here, you’ll be sorry” and so forth. Which tells me that consumers ARE looking for the lowest price on everything. Times are tough and we need to save money wherever we can. I’m the same way, but I’ve come to realize that, especially when times are tough, I need to get the best value for my money. If you’re buying laundry detergent and one store has your brand for $2 less than another, you get the better value by purchasing at the store with the lower price (unless you have to spend $2 worth of gas to get there). But if you’re purchasing a vacation is price really the only distinction that matters?
What DOES matter to you? Is it price alone? Value? The experience? By using a qualified travel agent who asks questions to find out exactly what does matter to you, you should have a better experience. You will have an advocate for you in case there is a problem during your trip. Your agent should be knowledgeable about the destination you are considering. She should ask you the purpose of your vacation, what kind of experience you want, what sort of resorts you have stayed in previously, etc. She should advise you about the differences in the resorts that you ask about, about the category of the room, about the amenities included in the price. For instance, many hotels have Oceanview room categories, but that doesn’t mean the same thing at each hotel. In one hotel an Oceanview is truly what it says – you can see the ocean from the window or balcony. In others, Oceanview means you get a peek of the ocean if you lean over your balcony – if you want the full view you need to book the Deluxe Oceanview. If an Oceanview is important to you, you want to make sure you book the right category.
Is the resort planning a renovation during the time of your vacation? Will the pool be closed? The restaurant? These are details your travel agent should know, but that online booking engine won’t tell you about. And, in most cases you won’t pay more for a travel agent’s services for the same itinerary. Imagine that – a better vacation experience, with personalized service, for the same price as the online agency offers! Now that is truly valuable!
Another thing I noticed recently was the cancellation policy of the travel agency division of a large local company. I’m one of those that likes to read the fine print, and I saw that for hotel only bookings the deposit is $100 per person. Very reasonable. However, if you cancel anytime after 48 hours from making that deposit you lose the full $100 per person, even if the hotel’s policy says you can cancel up until the day of arrival. I have no problem with a travel agency having a cancellation or change fee policy, because we get paid by commission and have spent some time with you and should be paid. But, if you book online with them and then decide to cancel, do they really need $200 of your money just to process the cancellation? There were other penalties as well and some other policies that would give me pause if I were booking with them, including charges for changes that were higher than I usually I felt they should be for a more or less do it yourself booking company.
It DOES matter where you book your travel. The next time you need to make travel plans what I ask you to think about is “What matters to YOU”? Consider calling a travel professional and comparing what they can do for you to what you are finding yourself.
Ask why you should work with them. For example, I specialize in tropical destinations. I have earned my Caribbean Destination Specialist certification from The Travel Institute. I have taken courses from the tourist boards for many Caribbean Islands, as well as several cruise lines. I’ve taken courses offered by several resorts to learn more in depth information about them. I’m also a Hawaii and Mexico Destination Specialist and have studied several areas of Mexico in depth. I have taken many webinars from the Hawaii Visitors Bureau to learn more about the islands. I have visited about 12 Caribbean islands, some several times. I’ve visited both Hawaii & Mexico several times, touring different areas. This is just a short list of my qualifications – the kinds of continuing education I do to keep myself current and up to date so that I can make sure my clients have their Perfect Vacation in Paradise. A good travel professional does the same no matter what their specialty is.
Here’s to your next Vacation being Perfect for YOU no matter where your Paradise may be.