Why You Should Consider a Travel Agent To Book Post-Pandemic Travel
The coronavirus squashed the travel industry in 2020, but the increase in COVID-19 vaccinations and reopening of tourist destinations have Americans hitting the air and the skies in big numbers. And the explosion of travel has brought the resurgence of an occupation that seemingly had become less relevant in the internet age: the travel agent, now commonly called travel advisor.
Even as more people turned to airline and hotel websites, or travel apps that promised big discounts to make their own trip arrangements, the travel agency survived but moved into the background. Now, as summer vacations are gearing up, travel advisors are being called to the forefront for their expertise as trip planning enters a different season: post-pandemic.
“Travel agents take the hassle out of booking and have access to the best deals across categories and packages you won’t find online,” said James Ferrara, co-founder and president of InteleTravel. “Consumers have learned their value during the pandemic, especially when things don’t go the way they want them to go like so many have experienced these last 12 months. I’ve never seen interest and confidence in travel agents as high as it is now.”
The use of travel agencies is growing, confirmed the American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA). A May report from the group said that prior to the pandemic, 27% of travelers always or often relied on a travel advisor. Now, 44% of people who sometimes or rarely used an advisor are turning in that direction, according to the report.
“The good news for travel advisors is that we’re seeing a strong increase in overall demand for travel and as a result — travelers are turning to the experts for advice,” said Zane Kerby, president and CEO of ASTA.
What can travel advisors do for travelers that they can’t do for themselves? Leveraging their experience, they can help travelers save money, take the legwork out of figuring what destinations might have COVID-19 restrictions and use their up-to-date knowledge of pandemic-related issues to make travel as easy as possible.
Expertise Can Equal Lower Expenses, Extras
Planning a trip is about more than booking a seat on an airplane, advisors say. It’s about planning an experience — and that’s where their knowledge can help. Along the way, they say they work to make sure travelers get the most for their money, especially post-pandemic.
“One of the many services we offer our … clients is price monitoring for any special offers or discounts,” said Natalie Connell, the owner of Castle and Cruise Adventures, which specializes in family vacations, including ones to Disney properties. “This service doesn’t stop after our clients booked with us. We continue to be vigilant to watch for any special offers that can be applied to reservations all the way up to travel time.”
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It’s those extras that travel advisors say make them valuable.
“A travel designer has an extensive network of high-level industry contacts, firsthand knowledge of the products represented and exclusive perks for clients such a priority upgrades, breakfast-inclusive rates, early check in/late check out, shipboard credit on cruises and the highest level of service at hotels and resorts around the globe,” said Terry Bahri, a travel designer with Ovation Travel Group.
McLean Robbins, the founder of Lily Pond Luxury, a luxury travel agency, agreed.
“From a purely financial aspect, the value of the amenities I provide to my travelers, ranging from breakfast to credits to upgrades, averages $500 per stay,” she said. “And in many cases, I’ve secured free nights, complimentary upgrades and extra perks that double the value of their travels, plus negotiated access to otherwise sold out or unavailable scenarios.”
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COVID-19 Restrictions Can Cost Money
While the United States has made strides in COVID-19 vaccinations — the number of Americans fully vaccinated is approaching 50% — the same isn’t true in the rest of the world. While U.S. lockdowns have lifted and mask requirements largely have gone away, other nations are still struggling to vaccinate their residents and have COVID-19 restrictions in place.
If you’re heading to Mexico, for example, only about 12% of people are fully vaccinated. In Japan, it’s less than 6%. And in Australia? Below 3%.
Travel advisors say they are staying up to date with travel regulations and restrictions amid the COVID-19 pandemic to offer the best guidance should something go awry with a trip or to suggest destinations that are open for business, sparing costly cancellation fees or spoiled vacations.
“Time is money, and it’s never been truer than in the context of piecing a vacation together only to have it derailed by border closures, curfews or being denied entry on your flight for having the wrong type of COVID test,” said Michelle Talsma, a travel advisor at Peru For Less. “Using a travel agent to book post-pandemic travel is one of the smartest ways to save you time and money. Your travel agent will handle before-your-trip preparations to prevent hiccups, be on call to handle any last-minute changes and advocate on your behalf to negotiate the best terms.
“COVID restrictions are constantly changing, so the likelihood of needing to reorganize your entire itinerary is much higher than pre-pandemic travel. If you don’t learn how to rearrange every transfer, tour and hotel without incurring cancellation or change fees, you’ll be out a lot of money.”
Rules of Travel Have Changed
Connell shared a story about Walt Disney World vacations that turned upside down because visitors didn’t know the theme park’s COVID-19-era procedures.
“If you want to make the best use of your vacation dollars on your post-pandemic travel, it is time to put away all the travel apps and it is time to seek out an experienced travel planner. The rules of travel are changing rapidly and if you are not up-to-date on all the latest policies you will find yourself with added expense and missed vacation opportunities,” she said.
“A prime example of this could be seen in a flurry of complaints on social media,” she said. “Families who had booked a Walt Disney World vacation on their own didn’t know that no longer will a park ticket get you inside one of Disney’s four theme parks but you must also have a park reservation. Travelers were preparing to head to Disney only to realize some of the popular parks — Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios in particular — had already reached capacity and were no longer allowing any more guests to secure a park reservation. These families had tickets but couldn’t use them on the dates they had planned.”
How much can you expect to spend on the services of a travel agent? The price is minimal. The New York Times reports that advisors could charge a booking fee of $25 to $100, but they generally make their money on commissions from hotels, cruise lines and other travel-industry providers.
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