In Defense of Travel Agents

A recent article published on Woman’s Day on July 16, entitled “9 Things a Travel Agent Won’t Tell You“, has caused an uproar among the travel professional community. The article, which sought to “educate” its readers, instead contained some very misleading and – in some instances – untrue information about the nature of our work and relationships with clients. It accused travel agents of (among other things) lacking integrity and ethics with regard to providing the best trips to clients, in the interest of finding the best commissions and capitalizing on perks provided by travel suppliers.

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In response, various travel organizations and suppliers have published statements providing support to the travel community and discrediting the information contained in the article. As of today, Vacation.com, MAST Travel Network, Royal Caribbean International, and ASTA (American Society of Travel Agents) have issued such statements. Angry and frustrated travel professionals and supporters alike flooded the comments section of article; in fact, the response was so great that today Woman’s Day issued the following response:

Thank you to all the hard-working travel agents who provided feedback on this story. The goal of this article was to inform consumers on how they can get the best prices on travel. Helping readers find value is Woman’s Day’s main objective, and we recognize that travel agents provide valuable services that help women’s vacation dreams come true. We’re sorry if that didn’t come through in this article. We’re happy to say we will be highlighting these services in the October issue of Woman’s Day magazine and in a story in December on WomansDay.com. We’ve thoroughly reviewed this article and have removed point 9 (about airline commission) based on information you provided. We thank you again for sharing your expertise and doing the great work that you do. We’re looking forward to working with some of you closely on our December online feature story.

In contrast, ASTA published “8 Reasons Why Booking with a Travel Professional Creates Value” Plus 5 tips for finding a professional to “help you travel smarter”:

1.Customer advocacy: If you have a problem with a particular part of your travel experience, the agent is there to act on your behalf to see that restitution is made. ASTA, for example, is the only travel industry association aggressively fighting to improve the travel experience, and air transportation in particular, for all consumers, not just those with access to the Internet.

2.Expert guidance: Travel agents, unlike instructions on a Web page, are experts in understanding and deciphering the myriad of travel information and codes out there. It’s what they’ve been trained to do and they do it every day.

3.Personalized service: Instead of an impersonal voice thousands of miles away, travel agents are your neighbors. They know what you want and what you value in your travel experience.

4.Professional advice: Travel agents are there to make sure you get where you want to go, when you want to go and for the lowest price.

5.Time: Instead of checking a long list of travel Web pages, which only provide rates and fares for the companies that have contracted with them, why not go straight to the source? A travel agent has all the information at their fingertips, saving you a few hours in front of a computer screen.

6.Unbiased information: Agents work for their clients, not for a travel supplier. It makes sense that a happy customer will be a repeat customer.

7.Value: Travel professionals have access to online deals, as well as many consolidators that only work with travel agencies. A travel agent will help you find the best products that provide you value.

8.First-Hand Experience: Many travel professionals have been to where you want to go and will give you the inside-scoop on what to do and when to do it. Look for a travel professional that is an expert in your chosen destination or type of travel.

ASTA’s Consumer Tips On Choosing a Travel Agent:

1.Go with the Pros: Look for the ASTA label. Through its continuing education and training programs, ASTA prepares its members to operate high-caliber, competitive businesses. Check TravelSense.org to find an ASTA member professional. You can also search for travel professionals with expertise in specific destinations and types of travel (i.e. scuba, adventure, etc.)

2.Ask Around: Tap friends, neighbors and relatives who use an agent they trust. You may want to visit or call several agencies to find the one that best suits your needs. Consider everything from the appearance of the office to the agent’s willingness to listen and answer questions. The best agents want to establish a long-term relationship with a client, not just make one sale.

3.Ask about Fees: Good agents will notify their clients of any additional fees, including service fees, up front. Doing otherwise is pointless, as the fee will appear as a separate charge on the client’s credit card bill.

4.Check Credentials: Many agents have been trained in business management, travel and tourism or geography. Others have supplemented their agency experience with extensive education and training courses. Some travel agents are Certified Travel Counselors (CTC) through the Travel Institute or Master Cruise Counselors (MCC) through the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA).

5.Research your Agency’s Track Record: Visit ASTA.org to see whether a travel agency is an ASTA member. Check with the local Better Business Bureau (bbb.org), while keeping in mind they will only have records of agencies that have had reports filed against them. (my host agency, KHM Travel Group, is a member of ASTA)

(source: travelagentcentral.com)

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What are your thoughts? Can anyone testify to the benefits of using a travel agent? Disadvantages?

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