Friday, May 30, 2014

Why Use a Travel Agent?

BY: A Disney Dining Agent and a Travel Agent Trainer

First, I will take a moment to say that sometimes Travel agents are not the most popular callers to make dining reservations at Disney.  Many don't know what they are doing.  Many place us on hold repeatedly without asking to speak with their clients or other random people, they are fast paced and occasionally not patient.

Personally, I love most travel agents and look forward to their calls. If they are knowledgeable about Disney, then they are a true asset to their client and our guests.  I have also trained travel agents for many years.  Some "get it" and some don't.

In this world of internet-everything, the question of “why use a travel agent” may come up.  This blog will deal with why travelers should consider using a travel agent, how to interview prospective travel agents, and how travel agents are compensated.

“How are travel agents compensated, and won’t it cost me more to use a travel agent?”

Most travel agents are free to their clients!  While there are some exceptions (there may be service fees for things like air only assistance), as a general rule you pay nothing to use a travel agent.  Travel agents are compensated by the travel companies they use.  In addition, most travel agents can meet or beat any price.  What that means for you is that you may pay LESS than  you see advertised, but at minimum the same, plus you get an expert on your side for free!

“How do I choose a travel agent?”

You need to be choosy when you pick a travel agent.  Find a good one, and you have the benefit of an expert on your side for life!  Find a bad one, and that trip you spent your hard earned money on may be at risk.  Things to look for:

1.  Experience.  Nothing beats hands on experience, especially with Disney.  Going on one trip does not an expert make.  An expert will not only have hands on experience but extensive learned knowledge through training.
Knowledge.  Want to take a cruise?  Ask these questions:
·       Ask about embarkation and debarkation processes
·       Ask their opinions on dining and cabin location

Want to go to Disney?  Ask:
·       How does Fast Pass work, and how much does it cost? (and yes, that is a trick question)
·       What is their favorite restaurant? And do they handle all your dining reservations for you?

Want to go somewhere exotic, like Italy or Egypt?  It is VITAL you find someone that knows the destination.

If you enjoy the planning process, find an agent that you will enjoy planning with, and that will follow your lead.  Want the agent to do everything?  Make that clear.  Want to be included in everything?  Make that very clear.  You want to choose someone comfortable with the type of trip you are planning, and someone that you enjoy.  

2.      Credentials.  Ask what certifications an agent may hold, and/or what accreditation's their agency holds.  IATAN is an important accreditation because it is difficult to obtain, and requires things like minimum agency bank balances and recommendation letters from travel vendors.

3.      Find someone you like. Make it a policy to work with people you like!  It makes planning trips much more enjoyable, and it can enhance a client experience.  Often in life we don't have a choice in the people we deal, you can CHOOSE to work with someone you like.

I can't stand pushy agents..."please book with me."  That smacks of desperation.  Find someone laid back about "landing your sale" but aggressive where it counts (Be Our Guest, anyone?).  If they sound desperate, they probably are.  There is plenty of business to go around...choose an agent untouched by that nonsense.

4.  Referrals.  Getting a referral from someone you trust is like finding a $100 bill!

“Why use a travel agent?”

First, let me start by defining people that may be happier without a travel agent:
·       Do you micromanage your trips?
·       Do you do exhaustive research?
·       Do you re-price things often and change reservations accordingly?

If you answered yes to most of those, a travel agent might not be for you, unless they are a perfect fit with your personality.

Benefits of using a travel agent:
·       Matched pricing or better pricing
·       Knowledge of destinations, and contacts such as hotel managers and tour guides
·       No need to search dozens of sites, a good travel agent knows exactly where to go!
·       Special perks like itinerary planning, restaurant assistance, gifts or upgrades
·       Even if you enjoy planning, having a travel agent on your team can make sure your trip is as magical as possible!
·       Help if you experience a problem during your vacation

Don’t pick a travel agent based on onboard credit only, or rebates.  A good incentive is awesome, but in the midst of your excitement at finding a good OBC offer, make sure you also pick a good individual agent.  They key is SERVICE…don’t sacrifice that for a few dollars.  You are spending a lot on your vacation, but you get what you pay you really want to sacrifice your hard earned trip by nickel and diming everything? There is spending your money wisely, and there is cheap.  There is a huge difference between the two.

Finally, don’t contact a travel agent, use them to price out dozens of vacations, and then book on your own.  Travel agents are compensated only when you book through them.  If it is a matter of price, ask them to match.  If it is a “just because” matter and you decide to book on your own, that is the equivalent of you getting paid zero at your job.  Do you enjoy going to work, doing your job and doing it well, and then being told "we decided you aren't going to get paid even though you did the work".  Most travel agents do not charge fees for their time, and earn their living only when people actually go through them to book their trips.  No one likes to work for free!

A good travel agent/client relationship can be extremely beneficial.  Vacations are an investment…protect them!

By Lucy