By Ed Perkins, Tribune Content Agency
For any upcoming trips, many of you will turn to a travel advisor to help with the arrangements—some for the first time. When Internet travel agencies and search systems first blossomed, some observers predicted the “end” for conventional travel agents. And many such agencies did, in fact, disappear. But others survived, in part by morphing into travel advisors. Specifically, Internet-age travel advisors found three useful niches:
- Using specialized knowledge to help consumers plan and arrange trips in today’s complex travel marketplace.
- Taking over the workload of compiling and arranging complex travel arrangements.
- Helping big corporations manage and control their business travel budgets.
Ordinary consumers aren’t concerned with the third niche, which is filled mainly by large business travel agencies and consortiums. But many ordinary consumers are taking advantage of the way travel advisors can make their lives easier. And there’s a big difference between a travel advisor and a travel agent. Big online outfits such as Expedia and Booking are travel agents. They can help you compare costs of various options and actually perform the base agency function of making the transaction. But they can’t sit down with you, discuss your objectives and preferences, and help you map out a complete trip. That’s what makes travel advisors different: Yes, they can also make the transaction, but their real value is helping you zero in on exactly which transactions you want to make.
- Thus, probably the main way advisors can benefit you is by helping you plan and arrange a trip. They keep up with the latest developments in destinations and transportation services. And they may even have access to deals that aren’t offered to the general public.
- Even if you keep up with what’s going on, yourself, you may not want to spend tedious hours glued to your monitor, researching and comparing options. Instead, you can just tell an advisor, “I want to take my kids to Disney World in June” and let the advisor work out the details.
Advisors earn their income from two sources: fees you pay and commissions some suppliers offer. And you can expect to pay some kind of fee, starting around $40 to $50 and running up into the hundreds, depending on the assignment. Airlines these days don’t pay much in the way of commissions, but cruise lines, hotels, and tour operators do, so what you pay depends, in part, on what sort of trip you plan.
And, lastly, maybe the most important question: How do you locate the right advisor? This is a tough one—just as it is for any other personal service, from doctor to stockbroker to plumber. As with all such services, your most reliable source is word of mouth from friends, relatives, and co-workers. Be sure to ask around.
You can find an advisor who specializes in almost any travel niche, from budget to luxury. The American Association of Travel Advisors (ASTA) posts a travel advisor locator that you can filter by specialty, such as “senior travel,” “beach vacations, or “luxury travel,” as well as by destination. The main problem is that too many advisors claim special competence in just about everything. ASTA membership is certainly a plus, but the “ASTA Verified” certification is more a measure of how an advisor runs its business rather than its travel knowledge.
Several large advisor chains operate multiple locations or affiliates around the US, including Internova (formerly Travel Leaders); American Express; and AAA (check website for your state).
Some advisors focus on cruises exclusively, which is a good thing—they keep up with what’s going on. If you want a cruise, consider a cruiser specialist, although AAA is also good with cruises.
Many local travel advisors are affiliated with one of a dozen or more worldwide outfits that back up individual advisors with current technology. Google your area for candidates. And when you spot a likely candidate, don’t be reluctant to ask for—and check—references.
(Send e-mail to Ed Perkins at email@example.com. Also, check out Ed’s rail travel website at rail-guru.com.)
(c) 2020 TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.– Oct. 5. 2020
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