Did you see the NY times article called “How to Pick a Travel Agent“? It lists four tips to find the perfect agent. While some of these tips are fine, I’ll comment on each as well as provide some additional considerations. Here’s the NY times articles main points:
Do your homework
According to the author, this consists of getting recommendations from friends and family, Facebook and looking at travel networks. Well OK this all makes sense. But there’s more to it. Certainly if you’ve used a travel agent before and you were happy with their work, by all means use them again. These days of course many people surf the web in search of deals, information or even inspiration. If you’re lucky enough to use the Avoya.com site, you’ll be routed to a specialist based on your requests. If you happen across a blog that you like, read more and see if the blog writer is a travel agent. Chances are you’ll make a good match if you like what they write.
Figuring out your needs
The article talks about looking for specialists and/or someone you can work with long term. Fine, but here’s some other considerations.
- Specialization is very important. Would you rather book your river cruise with someone that’s never been on one or someone that’s been on a dozen? There’s so much to know about the product as well as the pricing.
- Do you need an agent that’s transactional (just give the price) or someone that will spend time with you?
- Do you need an agent who will look out for your best interests or their own? Suppliers are always coming up with ways to incentive agents to push their particular product. It’s tempting to be sure! But the better agents know they are working for their clients and will do the best they can for the client, regardless of the incentive du jour. They are in it for the long term.
How involved do you want to be?
Here the article describes agent that like to do everything vs others that just offer advice. I find this a little strange since my scope of service is a function of what the client wants or needs – not what I prefer. I think any excellent travel agent changes their offering based on client needs. Here’s an example – if I have an elderly first time traveler, I’ll help them with booking airline seats on the airline websites. Certainly not something I’m going to do that for most clients. Some clients want me to book the entire vacation – others are happy with only a car and a few hotels. The travel agent needs to adjust to what the client wants. And the article talks about matching your travel personality (communication types). While this is important, I would say it’s still up to the agent to adapt to their client. I have clients that know exactly what they want and don’t want my opinions while others would rather listen, ask questions, discuss and debate before making a decision. A good agent can and will adapt.
Don’t be scared off by fees – really?
The industry is changing and it’s true that some travel agents charge a fee, be it hourly or by task. I don’t believe a fee is necessary and Avoya has a strict no fee policy. We are paid by the suppliers and the client should have to pay no more than the supplier price. That doesn’t mean I work for the supplier – I’m free to recommend many different travel supplier options. And most suppliers we deal with pay approximately the same within their niches. It’s quite competitive. So there’s no real influence by the suppliers when it comes to making recommendations. So there’s no reason for clients to pay twice. So here I respectfully disagree with the author. My view is that I can make a sustainable living by providing excellent service and offering excellent advice to my customers – all with no fees. Why would you pay more?
Here’ a little story. Last year, we were looking for a financial advisor. You may know that there’s many many advisors out there. First I received recommendations from some trusted friends. I noted signs as I drove around locally. I did a Google search and looked at many websites to see if any “spoke to me”. Next I interviewed several – some live and in person and others remotely via the phone. I read up on each – I read their blogs as well as articles they’ve written and responses they provided to questions. So how did I make my decision? I found someone that:
- Had the same financial philosophy as I (long term perspective, financially conservative, not greedy for returns, tax efficient focused)
- Worked the way I work (spreadsheets and facts, experienced and had integrity)
- Had a consistent message over time. And was willing to defend that message regardless of other’s opinions. Had conviction and backbone.
So how does this relate to finding a travel agent?
- Trust: at the end of the day, I trusted my chosen advisor. He had a track record, demonstrated knowledge and had excellent experience. The advisor spoke plainly and truthfully. He said it like it was, even if it came out a little harsh. You need to trust your travel agent.
- Results: I felt I could get the kind of results I wanted. Not what the advisor wanted me to get. You need a results focused agent – someone that will provide you the best value vacation (lowest price, most amenities, best fit, etc). Someone that will put you first (not their agency, not a supplier).
How to pick a great travel agent?
The real question to ask is how to pick a great travel agent? It’s about trust – based on demonstrated competence and knowledge, experience and clarity of explanations. Do you trust that your agent is working for you and doesn’t have an ulterior motive? And it’s about getting results. Is the travel agent able to get you the best deal? Are they able to recommend a vacation that makes the most sense for your needs and wants? Finally is the travel agent able to adapt to your needs and style?
So yes, do your homework. And understand yourself and your needs. Find a no fee travel agent. But most of all find someone you can trust and someone that will get results.
Here’s some other posts we have written regarding travel agents:
- How to protect yourself from bad travel agents
- Why not book direct? Book with your travel agent instead
- Can I trust my travel agent or travel supplier?