I just read a very interesting article in the Caribbean Journal about Expedia's Travel Conference held December 9-10 in Las Vegas. I often find that you need to read between the lines when reading articles, but the message in this article was completely blatant to me. I just don't understand why more people don't see it.
Mark Okerstrom CFO of Expedia is quoted, "Expedia has spent 750 million dollars investing in technology… and we think of ourselves more as a technology company than a travel company."
Why would anyone want to plan a travel experience with a technology company? They are in the business of developing and selling technology - not in the business of helping people plan the perfect getaway. It is mind boggling to me why people trust the online travel sites with their valuable vacations. The customer service at the technology companies is known to be awful. Is it simply a calculated risk every time you book a trip through an online site? Expedia purchased Orbitz, Travelocity, Wotif and is in talks with Home-Away - does that feel like personalized service?
People ask me all the time why they should use a travel agent and I am dumbfounded… why WOULDN'T you? Travel agents are people who travel, not corporations who write code. They have contacts with hotels, resorts, airlines, car rental companies, tourist boards, restaurants, the list goes on and on. They talk to you about what you want out of your vacation and help plan an experience custom tailored to your interests. They anticipate your needs by asking preferences, setting up reservations and planning excursions. They follow up after your trip and make sure you enjoyed every aspect of your trip, and if you didn't they advocate for you and try to compensate for your loss. These are the things that travel agents do.
People tend to use agents they know or are recommended to… you KNOW this person. If there is anything you need, you know where they are and how to reach them. In the event of a change, emergency or problem, you have someone to call. When something needs to be changed or cancelled with Expedia or Orbitz you call an overseas call center, wait on hold for hours and rarely get the problem resolved. I understand that most people don't anticipate anything happening, but this is your hard earned money and time, it's your VACATION, why would you trust it with a technology company?
And although I would prefer not to make it about price… using a travel agent is FREE. The customer service, the time saving benefits, the attention, the perks and gifts… all free. I will admit, some agents charge fee's for various services - heck, I charge for air only reservations and complicated itineraries - and my clients are happy to pay me for my time and expertise. But for the most part, the service is free. How is that possible, you ask? Well, the travel agent is paid commission by the travel partner. "Oh, but won't the travel agent try to sell me something for their own incentive?" you ask. NO, that is just ridiculous. The 'perks' people speak of are few and far between and even if they exist, they are certainly not worth risking future business with a potential long term client. Plus, most travel agents I know are people pleasers, they tend to put the customer before their business (sometimes to their own detriment).
I am not saying there isn't a market for booking certain types of travel yourself online, I believe there is. It is just as easy (if not easier) for you to go to an airline website and book plane tickets to visit family or call a tour operator to plan a trip to a familiar location. But for a trip like a honeymoon, anniversary, or annual family vacation that you are spending significant money to take and could benefit from a knowledgeable professional… a travel agent is absolutely the way to go.
I love working with seniors! I thoroughly enjoy guiding clients through the planning process, from finding the right destination to organizing the logistics to hearing about the trip upon their return. I am a strong advocate for my clients when it comes to price, quality and service. Trust and building lasting relationships along with continuing education are all extremely important to my business.