I’ve been in the travel industry for 11 years. Over those past 11 years I’ve learned a thing or two about designing epic experiences for the people I have the honor of calling my clients, but I’ve also developed a deep appreciation for those who call themselves travel professionals. While everyone has had some type of experience with the industry – whether it’s booking travel online, working directly with a vendor or booking a trip through a travel agent or consultant – most really don’t know the inner workings of the travel industry and how truly it’s transformed over the years.
Since last week I celebrated my third year of the wonderful world of full-time entrepreneurship, balancing two distinct business entities (Golden Life Getaways and Golden Life Communications Consulting) and a growing ministry, I figured it was time to use Golden Life Musings to educate on some of my beloved industry’s least understood topics.
- The term travel agent no longer means what it used to. In the days of old – like more than 20 years ago before online travel was such a thing – travel agents were “agents” to the airlines. You could not book an airline ticket without an agent, so there was a commission embedded in the cost of the airline ticket. Today, there are no commissions embedded in airline tickets for agents and you can often find the best deals online, therefore most agents do not book solo airline tickets anymore. So, before you think about going to your travel professional friend and asking them to find you a deal on two tickets to such and such, think again. Your best bet is to go online just like everyone else and find your best deal there.
- There is a difference between a travel agent and a travel consultant. Today, travel agents primarily work in the travel departments of large corporations or brick and mortar travel agencies that still exist, yes despite the growing trend of online travel. Their primary purpose is to book your travel arrangements so you don’t have to. They typically earn a salary in addition to the commissions paid by the supplier or vendor with whom they book your trip. A travel consultant, on the other hand, is a specialist. Their purpose is to design an experience for you by collaborating with you and helping you figure out how to bring your dream trip into reality. They often times are an expert in a particular specialty or niche and you go to them for their expertise in where you are looking to travel. Travel consultants are generally independent, meaning they don’t get paid unless they charge a fee for their services or they rely solely on the commissions generated by the supplier/s with which they book.
- Quotes require research, thus time. When you ask a travel agent or consultant for a quote and you have a few different destinations in mind, it requires them to do research with various suppliers to find and present the best packages based on the parameters you set for dates, budget and other preferences. In some cases, depending on how involved the trip will be, this can require hours upon hours of research and time. If you’re working with a home-based agent or consultant who only gets paid when you book the trip, providing quotes for potential clients with no intentions to book can be dangerous because that agent is potentially working without getting paid for the time and energy he/she spends researching. That’s why there is a growing trend in the industry for travel professionals to charge a travel design fee, so in the event the client decides not to book, they’ve at least been paid something for their time, and expertise I might add. If you’re working with someone who is knowledgeable and can provide you options based on first-hand experience, they deserve to be paid for what they offer.
- It’s not about the deal, it’s about the service. If you are on an extremely tight budget and you are looking for the lowest possible deal you can find, working with a travel professional is probably not ideal. Now don’t get me wrong, if there is a deal to be had without cutting ourselves out of the commission that is already embedded in the cost of the trip, we will find it for you. But, if you are expecting your travel professional to beat the rate that Groupon is offering or that last minute deal from Priceline or Expedia, you might as well go with the online guys. It’s like the difference between fast food and eating at a restaurant. Either place offers you food, but when you go to a restaurant, you are going for the quality, service and experience and as a result, you’re willing to pay more for that food.
- You’re already paying a commission when you book online. To the point above, going with a travel agent or consultant does not always mean your trip is going to be more expensive. In fact, you may end up saving money by working with a travel professional because if they’re any good they know how to get their clients more benefits, privileges and access than what you actually pay for – yes, we like to upgrade you using our connections. One of the first things I learned when I entered the industry was there is a commission already built into bookings, whether you book online or with an agent. If there is no agent involved, that commission just goes back to the company. All companies, including online travel entities like Expedia and Priceline, include a markup on travel in order to make a profit. At a bare minimum, if you know what you want and your agent can meet or beat the rate of what the online provider is offering, go with your agent so they can claim that commission that’s built into the booking. So, what am I saying here? If you know someone who is a travel professional, at least give them a chance to earn your business. And who knows, next time you book, they might find a way to upgrade you.