Agents debunk misconceptions people have about travel advisors
There’s no doubt that the ongoing global pandemic has helped shine a light on the value of using a travel agent. Along with the old notion that no one uses agents anymore, travel advisors from across the country weigh in with common misconceptions the public believes about their trade.
A dying breed
Stephanie Mercredi runs a live travel agency with second year travel and tourism students at SAIT (Custom Travel Solutions) in Calgary.
“A misconception is that they are a dying breed,” she tells Canadian Travel Press. “I think that people are realizing that there are definitely times that using a travel agent is the best way to go. If you want to book a flight to Toronto, go ahead and book that yourself online, but if you want to plan a trip through Southeast Asia, maybe speak with a travel agent who has either been themselves or at the very least booked it before. They will know the ins and outs of who to book with and where to stay and eat and all that good stuff.”
Similarly, Shawna Irish, a travel consultant with Flight Centre Penticton in Penticton, BC, says she occasionally encounters people who question the value of her position after learning what she does for a living.
“I have heard them say, ‘People still use travel agents?’ Some people feel that there is no longer a need for us because of the internet and think that we are being replaced by online companies,” she continues. “However, I feel like it’s actually becoming the opposite. People are overwhelmed with all of the choices, options, and prices presented online. I believe people like having that reassurance, confidence and security when they come in to book at a travel agency.”
They’re all the same
For Carla MacKay, the owner of Travel Our Way in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, another misconception is that all agents are the same.
“This is not true for travel agents as it is not true for any other profession,” she says. “I encourage consumers to find a knowledgeable agent with experience and a commitment to deliver a quality service. I suggest contacting multiple agencies, talking to agents and finding the person who best suits your needs.”
Not needed in a digital world
Unlike the common belief that travel agents aren’t needed in a digital world, Amanda Clarke of Robert Q Travel in Woodstock, Ont., feels the opposite is true.
“In fact — I think people need us now more than ever,” she says. “There is overwhelming information available at everyone’s finger tip. This is what we do. We navigate and educate constantly on all things travel. We know where the resources are, how to use them and find the answers to numerous questions. It’s what we as travel agents are trained to do. How to obtain a visa for a certain country? What’s the height restriction on the waterslides? What does my travel insurance cover me for? A great travel agent adds unwavering peace of mind to your travel.”
It saves no time
Michelle Gaudet, Inspired Travel Adventures, Nexion Travel Group believes people underestimate the time working with a travel advisor can save them.
“It’s a big job to put together the perfect trip,” she says. “It takes a lot of time and skill to make sure it’s planned properly. I tell my clients that I focus on their travel plans so they can do what they do best knowing everything is being taken care of by a knowledgeable professional.”
The price is not right
By far the most common misconception was around the costs associated with using an advisor.
“I think the biggest misconception is that it will cost you more to book with a travel agent,” says Megan Baugh, the owner of Baconko Travel Edmonton. “I believe there are a lot of people that don’t realize that they could have the assistance of an expert, a professional to take care of any issues with suppliers, an agent with established relationships with suppliers for the same price they would pay booking themselves online.”
Although she charges a fee for her services, Katy Sapsford, a travel consultant with Marlin Travel in Vernon, BC says clients are happy to pay it as they see the value she brings to the table.
“What I focus on is the value that I offer to my clients, that they don’t have to spend hours sifting through the endless information that is available online trying to understand it all,” she says.
Kerry Wirkkunen, intermediate travel consultant at CAA North & East Ontario in Thunder Bay, agrees that the biggest misconception that she hears is that it costs a lot more to use an agent.
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” she says. “Agents have the ability and time to source out different options that will save you money. If you call a tour or cruise provider and book with them directly, it’s the same price as with an agent. Depending on the agency, there may be added incentives because suppliers have relationships with agencies.”
Darren Prashad, branch manager and corporate responsibility representative with Merit Travel in Ottawa also points out that many people falsely think it costs a lot more money to book with a travel agent.
“We, and many agents, charge a professional fee but time is money and our clients agree,” he adds. “We also take the brunt of clients’ frustrations with airline and tour operator policies when things go wrong and out of our control.”
If the long list of misconceptions were true, then 2019 would’t have been a banner year for agents across the board, notes Scott Waldron, founder and personal travel manager at Gravitate Travel with TTAND.
“We charge more, no one uses travel agents anymore, we try to cheat people, we are being replaced by the internet, we can’t book flight only or hotel only bookings. I don’t agree with any of these, maybe they just having found the right agent they click with and trust,” he says. “Most of our business is from referrals and if all of the above statements where true, why was 2019 our best year? We have made it past that new business threshold and have come to have clients that trust us, know their travel styles, know that we keep updating our skills, learn about new destinations and advocate for them, the clients’ trip.”