I am asked from time to time if people still use travel agents. Typically, this question follows me telling them that I am a travel agent. Over the years I have responded to this question a variety of ways. From a simple "yes", to "the smart ones do", to more entailed explanations and analogies of how our industry actually works. The challenge has always been to educate prospective clients to the benefits of using a travel professional when planning a trip. I am going to explain why a great travel advisor is irreplaceable.
When I look at travel, as a whole, I am taken back at the culture of the do-it-yourself-online mind set. The thing I find strange is that leisure travel is typically one of the largest discretionary purchases we make. When dealing with such a large financial decision in any other aspect the majority of people seek out professional advice. For instance, I have access to information on homes for sale in my city. I can see square footage, price, number of bedrooms, school district and just about any other information I might need to make a decision on what type of home I would like. Beyond the information I have gathered online in regards to my interests I quickly get lost in the process of buying the home. Inspections, earnest money, financing, contracts and endless signatures all accumulate to an overwhelming task for the inexperienced, everyday consumer. To guide us through the process we seek out a well-reviewed or recommended realtor and mortgage broker to help us answer our questions.
"Information, of course, is a far cry from being able to make an educated and professional assessment of the information."
Another example would be healthcare. I can Google my symptoms; I can read about diseases, medications and homeopathic or natural treatments. The information is all there, but I do not know how to apply all of the information together, or more importantly ask the questions I might not have known to ask.
What about our finances? I can look at stocks online. I can open an E*Trade account and buy and sell stocks. I might even do alright for a while. But in the long run, I do not have all of the information needed to leverage the largest advantage so I trust my investments to my financial advisor. I pay him to manage my money because that is what he is educated and trained to do. My investments have a larger return even after he gets paid and my money is much safer in his hands.
The point is that all of these people are professional advisors for enormously impactful segments of our lives. When we look at travel, the internet is a great place to start. There are tons of websites that can give you pictures, features, prices and even other people's opinions. Information, of course, is a far cry from being able to make an educated and professional assessment of the information. Travel is a financial and emotional commitment. You are spending thousands of hard earned dollars for an experience, for a memory that, good or bad, will stay with you and those close to you for years to come. In some cases, our busy lifestyles leave far less time with our families then we'd like. Vacation is the quality downtime when families, couples and friends can be together. It is imperative that you find a great travel advisor. Find someone whose personality is compatible, who listens well, and most importantly, knows their trade well. There are great doctors, financial advisors and realtors and terrible ones. The same goes for travel advisors. Ask your friends on Facebook for a recommendation, Google travel agents in your city and read reviews, spend your time finding the right professional and you will be well rewarded with amazing, stress free vacation experiences.
The bottom line is this. I could spend the time learning enough about any of the subjects above to be dangerous. I could spend the necessary time to be pretty good. I could devote years to being great. But an elephant shouldn't try to be a cheetah. I know travel, my financial advisor knows money, and my realtor knows real estate. At the end of the day, if you eventually plan an identical trip and get every detail perfect you will still have invested a great deal of time learning something that a travel professional already knows. Find someone you trust and apply their knowledge to your wants, needs and personality and you will have a lifetime of awesome memories.
The internet is great for looking, but use a travel professional when booking.