Travel agencies, once the go-to for vacationers and business persons looking to plan trips at home and abroad, took a devastating hit in the 1990s when sites like Expedia and TripAdvisor put far-flung destinations just a mouse-click away.
But these DIY booking sites have flooded travelers with too much information. They bombard travelers with prices, times, deals, and stipulations as their pop-up competitors add yet more noise to the search.
Williams explained, “Expedia did take over the world – but the world grew, so travel agents had to adapt. The more tech we have, the more human connection we crave. So we are filling that need.”
Williams, and this new crop of travel agents—more aptly described as “travel designers” in a Vogue Magazine article—offer resources far beyond the basics of organizing flights, lodging, and tours. These designers create trips that you can’t just book online.
To get the inside scoop, they have feet on the ground in the locations they’re sending their clients or focus on one specific area.
So what does a hyper-curated trip look like?
William said, “Imagine arriving in Maui for the first time, you are greeted warmly with fresh flower leis. You zip right through the car rental line and even get a free upgrade, then you get a text that you’ve already been checked in to your luxury resort, with the extra pillows you requested already in the room. The best custom tours were already booked well in advance, you have front row seats at the Island’s most authentic luau, a VIP private tour to watch the sunrise at the top of Haleakala Crater and a picnic lunch next to a waterfall. It’s all arranged so go ahead and retreat to the pool and enjoy a couple Mai Tais as your significant other looks at you like the hero you are.”
They also meet the needs of modern-day customers that want someone they can trust and fix things when they go wrong.
“Recently we arranged a three week custom tour through Africa, while on Safari our client lost a beloved diamond earring. When our clients travel we always evaluate which insurance would be best for their needs, and in this case we had recommended a policy that would cover various aspects of their vacation,” stated Williams. “Thankfully, based on our professional experience and recommendation, the clients elected to add the insurance to their vacation. When they returned home we simply filed a claim and the client was compensated for her loss, and she was incredibly grateful our expertise saved the day.”
One of the biggest misconceptions of travel agents is that they are more expensive than an online booking site. Technically, this is true because there is always a cheaper place to stay, a cheaper car, and a ‘better deal’.
However, Williams explains, “You have to remember that you get what you pay for. If you don’t mind staying in a dingy motel with questionable carpet stains and the distinct smell of stale cigarette smoke and wet dog, just to save $50 dollars, then maybe you don’t need a travel agent. But, if you’d rather stay at a 4 star hotel with room upgrades, better accommodations, and meal and spa credits for the same amount…then you should consider booking through an experienced travel agent.”
She’s referring to the upgrades that a good agent can get for a client, upgrades based on a relationship with a hotel, a cruise line or a tour operator. Agents who send clients to the same properties get to know the staff. The resorts and cruise lines, for example, want repeat business, and might reward the agent’s clients with perks like a room upgrade, complimentary breakfast or even a spa credit. The value can add up quickly when the hotel in question is charging $25 or much more per person for breakfast or hundreds of dollars more per night for a larger room category.
Williams says that even if a client finds a better price at hotel, she can often make a call and get a perk or two thrown in to sweeten the deal.
The market appears to be responding to this new version of the travel agent. In a 2016 report, the American Society of Travel Agents found that 22 percent of 14,000 consumers surveyed booked through a travel agent—the highest share in the past three years.
The internet gutted their business but, thanks to the glut of information and the hubbub of modern life, it drove travelers back into the agency fold. Now, the internet is letting Williams, and other “travel designers” like her have the best of both worlds.
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