What can a Travel Agent do for you? Here's a real life story that illustrates some of the things a really good travel agent can do for you.
So the client calls up and says "I want to go on this Viking Ocean cruise in the Mediterranean. She had done some home work and was convinced this was what she wanted. The problem was that Viking was saying it was all sold out and she wanted to know what she should do.
Ok so she wants some advice - which is certainly one of the things any good travel agent can do. I asked why she choose Viking and she said she just got something in the mail from them (sound familiar?) and it looked great. OK, good. I asked if she had considered other times of the year. (she didn't really know when the best time for the Mediterranean was). Then I asked her if she had considered other cruise lines like Oceania or Silversea. (she had never heard of them). And I asked what about the specific itinerary she choose most appealed to her (she really wanted to stop in Venice, Rome and Florence). I also asked what she was most wanting to get out of this vacation (rest, history, time with friends, a sun tan, etc)? While this got us a little off topic, this gave me a real good idea of what she was looking for. Which means I could give her relevant suggestions. So what can a travel agent do? ask the right questions for one.
I'm no teacher but I do spend a good amount of time educating people. And education was the next up. So we talked about the best times to go to the places she wanted to go. What's the best for: price, weather, crowds, etc. (This blog discusses some of these same factors for river cruises). And we talked about the pros and cons of Viking vs Oceania vs several other lines. Everything from inclusions, itineraries, level of service, food quality and costs. We also talked about cabin categories and what's worth paying for and what's not. These are just some of the things a good travel agent can do.
Next I researched all the itineraries that met her criteria. I looked at other cruise lines as well as some land tours like Tauck or Collette. This framed the potential solutions in terms of both pricing and different types of experience. With the client still on the phone, we were able to narrow down some possibilities. What can a Travel Agent do? Research and converge on a solution.
Indeed some of the cruises on the short list were showing sold out on their websites. But I have a great Viking rep that I can call to look under the covers (so to speak) within the Viking system. Sure enough, he found one cabin that had just come off of hold and so we grabbed it right then and there. I also waitlisted the client on another line since she was very interested in that one as well.
This is fairly common. Yesterday, I got a call from client that was interested in a Uniworld river cruise. When I checked availability it was sold out. But I called my contact at Uniworld and she was able to find a great cabin that had just become available. The internet is great in terms of information sharing but sometimes human intervention is required to find what you're looking for.
Have you ever bought something on line, clicking through to the end only to find out in the very last step before giving your credit card that the all in price was higher than previously shown? Maybe it was added shipping or taxes. Maybe the store you selected were out of stock and so the program automatically went to a different shipping location? The same thing works in travel. Sometimes travel suppliers like cruise lines don't include port charges or other fees in their initial pricing. Or the great sale they are advertising only applies to high level cabins.
I've found that the only way to really understand what you are buying is to get written confirmation. So I almost always send my clients the full quotation before they buy. this includes pricing, itinerary and dates, but also inclusions and amenities. Just as important it shows payment terms, cancellation penalties and other important terms and conditions.
After putting the cabin that just came available "on hold," I received a confirmation showing all the facts described above. I sent this off to the client to approve (or think over). And sure enough it generated more questions.
Here's some of the follow up questions:
Each answer changes depending on which cruise line was selected. So what can a travel agent do? pPompt conversation that answers questions.
With documentation in hand and questions answered, the client was able to zero in on her first and second choice. In turns out that through my relationship with Avoya, I was able to offer an extra ship board credit on one of the cruises. I also found that if she could could move her dates back one week, the supplier was running a special sale ( not shown on their own website) that could save them $500 per person.
I do this by providing specialty knowledge, researching and leveraging the relationships I've developed over the years. Remember, maybe you go on a vacation once per year and likely to different locations and perhaps with different suppliers. I work with the same suppliers and answer the same questions day after day.
The client ended up booking with Viking, but on a different itinerary than she originally called with. She is now well prepared for her trip and will not be in the position of second guessing herself.