Another summer is upon us and by the time we blink, it will feel like Fall is not too far behind. And what will you be spending your Summer doing? The chances are you will probably be planning (or at least thinking about) your fall or winter vacation.
When I started working on designing “a la carte” trips for customers, some 15 years ago, the idea was to provide a service to individuals who had no time to spend on planning a journey, a cruise, an experience. Being in Washington DC when I started, I was accustomed to clients having that extra cash available to let someone else do what they did not like doing. But again, 15 years ago, the internet was not flooded with various websites offering to book low cost vacations in a matter of minutes.
So let’s get to the point all while attempting not to become bias! However, as I type this, EXPEDIA and its affiliates HOTELS.COM and TRIPADVISOR.COM (which is supposed to be a site with FAIR and HONEST reviews from consumers to consumers) is on trial in France over unethical practices which favored certain hotels over other ones by pretending being sold out. EXPEDIA is also accused of using its review website tripadvisor.com to direct consumers towards establishments with more favorable commission policies than others. As a matter of fact, a consumer posted an article about the lawsuit on trip advisor, which was taken down a few days later. So much for unbiased consumer reviews right?
Using the talents and services of a professional travel agent is NOT more expensive than booking a trip online yourself. If anything, a travel agent (or consultant) will be able to immediately root out the good from the bad hotels and service provider when, online, you might be going by the price and not so much the reputation, location or reviews. Photos are fantastic. But photos can also be taken from an angle that shows the establishment under a better light. Same with car rental, transfer services or excursions. Could you tell the good from the bad ones when booking online? Keep in mind that online travel services do not discriminate. If the hotel, car rental company, cruise line, etc..is in the general travel supplier system, online travel agencies will offer it regardless of quality, reputation or reviews. Travel agents work FOR YOU, not for hotel or suppliers you are being booked with. I would go even further by saying that travel consultants (a more savvy and less bias breed of travel agents who tends to work for themselves and not a large agency) will work even harder for you by not favoring one tour operator or supplier over another just because of incentives being offered. Their reputation is on the line and they know that an extra 1 or 2% commission to send clients to one resort versus another is not worth the loss of a repeat and happy customer.
Unless you request a trip to be designed from scratch (also called A LA CARTE), travel consultants and agents won’t charge you a fee. They are paid a commission directly by the travel supplier. Often, they will even be able to find you better deals as different systems used by travel agents offer different incentives to the client. And at the end of day, a travel agent will stand by you from the moment you purchase your trip to the time your return home. I specialize in themed and “A la Carte” tours which means I would actually design from scratch journeys of 6-8 individuals that I we would promote or simply work with clients on putting together their travel experience based on various criteria provided by them and based on my very own travel experience. The additional fee one might pay in such instance is minimal and is certainly worth the many hours one would otherwise have to spend on research. Notwithstanding the stress that comes with planning a vacation that could be full of (bad) surprises when you don’t really know where to start.
My advice is to give your travel agent a chance to come up with a good package for your next vacation. Set a budget not to exceed and do some research yourself if you feel more comfortable double-checking the work done. However, do book through a travel agent every chance you get (except for flights which can definitely be booked faster and cheaper online). This will ensure that you have a friend on your side should anything go wrong (and it sometimes does when traveling abroad) AND will definitely save you time and headaches. Unless you take great pleasure in designing travel itineraries (in which case, please contact me as we could use more people like you), leave it to the professionals. I promise you a better and more relaxed experience.
Here are two articles/reviews about trips I put together back in 2007 & 2008 – ENJOY and TRAVEL SAFE!
Mikael Frank Audebert