Today more than ever, so many people are enabled to travel, almost anywhere, at almost any time. And the more we travel, the more we learn about the world around us, we learn about ourselves and the difference we can make in our collective world, for the benefit of many. I strongly believe that travel is truly a force for good and provides us an invaluable way to appreciate the wider world and its diversity of people.
What is it that attracts us to the voyage of discovery? Why do we invest our precious time and hard-earned financial resources, leave our homes, and journey across the globe? For me, travel is vital; the introduction to new places and stimulation from meeting new people is energising. With each moment of discovery, our world opens wider, our lives change forever. And there is one constant: once the travel bug bites, there is no cure.
In our imagination we aspire to this world of wonder – spectacular places, fascinating people, delicious foods, distinctive cultures, new adventures and immeasurable joy all awaiting us. But where do we start when turning these dreams into our reality?
As mentioned last month’s blog, Trafalgar recently commissioned research on consumer sentiments surrounding travel. The more we can understand the aspirations of travellers, the more meaningfully we can deliver these dreams. I was surprised to find that 89% of consumers find themselves overwhelmed by the absolute abundance of choice they have when it comes to travel decision-making. On reflection, less surprising when taking time to consider the extraordinary volume of information at our fingertips.
Knowledge is power. Reading about places is fun and enticing. With an almost overwhelming amount of travel resources available – the internet, newspapers, social media, magazines, books television and word of mouth it’s no wonder that our wanderlust is turning into wander perplexed.
This is precisely why in this environment of perplexity, the services of a professional travel consultant, who can help navigate the journey, has become more valuable than ever.
But how do we even know which one to choose? Skill levels vary, as do areas of expertise with destinations and demographics. There is a large delta between travel inspiration and actual travel desires. Therefore, it is an absolute imperative to find an expert in travel who knows the world, is passionate about travel, and understands your needs.
This is a debate I often have with friends. In fact, in mid-October, I will be on an industry panel on ‘The Future of Travel Distribution’ in Phoenix, Arizona – to discuss exactly this. Nowhere in the travel world is there no debate around the relevance and value today of travel agents.
Of course, it’s feasible to sit at home, be inspired by social media, do endless online searches and make your own travel arrangements. But we are mostly all already voluntary slaves to technology. Don’t let your dreams turn into despair. Why would you spend hours online going down a rabbit hole to find that perfect getaway, rather than letting an expert do it for you.
The reality is best described in this analogy: when we are unwell, the first action most of us take is “Dr Google”. Symptoms entered, self-diagnosis done, and increased anxiety and uncertainty often results However, because we are dealing with our health – something not to be taken for granted – we turn to our physician. Why? Because we would never second guess our doctor, despite what the internet has “reliably” told us. Regardless of how much information may be out there, it is our doctor who understands who we are, what we need and how to restore us back to health.
I apply the same principle with travel agents. The secret to finding a holiday that meets your needs is finding a travel agent who truly understands who you are, what you need and dream of in a holiday, and how to get you there. Literally.
Everyone likes to feel special and be a priority. A good travel agent takes the time and trouble to listen to what you want (and don’t want), makes thoughtful and relevant suggestions that reflect your holiday aspirations in all ways, adjust to ensure that the holiday is a genuine ‘fit’, and make it happen time according to your defined resources of time and money. At the heart of a good travel agent experience is simply this: They do the work, all you do is dream, pack and go.
I have a four-step fit for finding your “right” agent for your travels:
First and foremost: EXPERTISE
First-hand knowledge, from the places they have been or learned their customers and fellow agents. By nature, a great travel advisor must be inherently inquisitive. They don’t just sell a destination—they travel, they ask questions, read, discover, research and experience the places for themselves. Quality travel agents travel for work, absorbing every detail of the guest experience. They don’t have to have personally been where you want to go, a colleague has, or their preferred tour operators have. They know the hidden gems in a given destination. They take feedback seriously. Every time they travel they are focusing on these details—so their customers can just dream about their destination and not have to worry.
Always accessible when you are on the road – an imperative when we are subject to the vagaries of travel – cancelled flights, weather, personal circumstance. If something goes wrong, a travel agent can help make it right. And quickly, with minimum of fuss. They answer their phones and respond to their email no matter where you are on the planet. Importantly, they must have clout – they will have developed personal relationships with individuals at the companies they sell, and this gives them leverage you can’t get on your own.
This is their lifeblood. Do not begrudge them for it. You are paying for their service and their credibility pays dividends. Generally, I have found that it will not cost you any more than doing it yourself. Their ability to benefit from travel relationships, access and resulting discounts will, with good travel agents, benefit you. If your travel agent charges a fee, the value you receive should be greater than what you would have paid going it alone. We may have the world at our fingertips but a good travel agent cuts through the clutter. And eradicates the risk of your holiday dream becoming a nightmare. Remember in travel, there are no do overs.
Choose a travel agent in the same way you would other high-value service providers such as doctors or lawyers: trust the opinion of others. Since travel choices are personal decisions that reflect individual desires and lifestyles, you will want to visit or call a number of consultants to find the one that best suits your needs. One of the largest changes, has been a shift to many different agency models. Look for the ones that best work for you. Trust your instincts – but pay attention to a travel advisor’s willingness to listen and answer questions. And never forget that the best advisors want to establish a long-term relationship with you, one that will be a true partnership in which your holiday dreams are fulfilled beyond expectation and is not just seen as a sales-oriented transaction. The most important variable is someone you can trust.
Sharing is a wonderful and consistent element of a great holiday. Invest in finding the right travel agent – the right partner – who can share and guide you is one of the greatest investments you can make. We only have one life, one in which there is no time nor money to waste. After all, travel dreams fulfilled are priceless.