I’ve heard it everywhere. Travel agents are a thing of the past! Internet travel is the wave of the future. Book directly with an online website, an airline, or even be your own travel agent with the new “travel like an insider” programs. Is it really a consumer’s best choice?
I’ve been in travel for a long time. I’ve seen the technology and tools for our industry grow over the years. Believe it or not, technology is what we use on a daily basis to assist in any way we can to help the client. We are constantly checking our email, voicemail and GDS for issues that may occur, even at night and on weekends. We are always watching the news and weather channels worrying about clients somewhere. If we see anything to cause concern we immediately get on it, no matter the time and shoot our clients off an email or voicemail letting them know we are here to help. Does this sound like something a website does for you? Not at all! Is it always as simple to click to order? Sometimes, but not if you are going to need any help later.
We’ve all seen the horrendous lines at the ticket counters when flights have been cancelled. We’ve even seen some websites promoting 4 star hotels when they really mean 4 cockroaches. Are you really sure you trust the computer’s recommendation, do you trust your neighbor who purchased a travel site for $500 but has never left her home town? Wouldn’t you prefer someone whose been certified and actually been there and done that?
One of my favorite movies of all times is “Club Paradise” with Robin Williams. The premise of the movie is a trip to a new resort based on beautiful pictures in a brochure. When they arrive, the resort is far from what they envisioned. Sharing bathrooms, no hot water, or even breakfast jump up – when you jump up and make your own breakfast. It’s a funny movie, but in this industry, unfortunately it is always a very real possibility. Information on screen or in print is never better than first hand knowledge.
Have you ever received a call from a “former Internet user” complaining about his last trip? The resort looked great from the pictures but we didn’t know it was under construction and the pool was closed. We didn’t know that there were three airports in New York and our first plane came into one and the next plane left from another. No one told us that we needed a Visa to travel and a Malaria shot. How was I supposed to know the airline changed the departure time to an hour earlier? I was stuck in Chicago in the winter for two days till the airline could reschedule me. I have heard them all–and with a true travel professional, none of these would have been a problem.
Corporate accounts and the entertainment industry are fans of the travel agent and are different animals. They have entirely different reasons why booking online is not in their best interests. The entertainment industry has privacy issues. Travelers’ often do not travel under real names, they require VIP support or assistance, they require tour buses and private cars. The Internet simply cannot handle this. For corporate accounts,the Internet cannot control the employee spending or enforce a travel policy. Reporting is needed, mileage and old unused tickets must be tracked, changes must be made constantly. While the Internet can do some of these, it doesn’t do it well. And most businesses would appreciate their employees paying more attention to the job they were hired to do, rather than surfing the net trying to maximize their frequent flier miles.
Many corporate agencies now have private website booking portals for their employees to book company travel if they choose. The reservations are sent to the agency to verify compliance with policy, check for any discounts, promos, and then are processed for ticketing. The client can also print any needed reports, reprint receipts for expense reports, and change their seats as much as they want. They can also always call their travel professional or 24 hour service for immediate personal assistance.
If you think online travel is the better way and paying a small fee is a bad choice, maybe you need to be reminded that value does not equal price. You need to be reminded that a true travel professional can give better, unbiased information, in less time than researching on the Internet.
Time is precious, why waste it surfing the net to save a few bucks? Let travel professionals do what they love to do, so you can get back to doing what you love to do.
Lisa Rapavi is a Corporate Travel Agent for The Leaders Group based in Montvale NJ. She is a home based working from her home in PA. She has been an agent for over 18 years, working in all facets of travel, but focus’ her travel skills in the corporate travel arena. Lisa can be contacted at L.Rapavi@tlgtravel.com