The Astonishing Reincarnation of the Travel Agent

Mar 29, 2023

There once was a time when everyone used a travel agent. Whether to book vacation travel or business travel, they rung a professional. Nowadays, not so much. But that’s changing.

Personally, we do use a travel agent to book virtually all our trips, except for simple short-haul flights. We’ve been working with one particular agent for over 15 years now. She loves her job and she’s terrific at it.

This may sound like a major organisational heresy, given the plethora of online platforms available to book the widest possible range of vacations at astonishing discounts (so it is claimed) but we prefer to do it that way.

And even though we live in the Laurentians (about 45 kilometres north of Montreal) we continue to use the services of Cindy, the owner/operator of Regency Travel, a Fort Lauderdale based business near where we (until recently) maintained a winter home.

Knowledgeable, fast, efficient and fair, Cindy and her team book anything we want in a fraction of the time it would take us to do it ourselves, and with a minimum of hassle, compared with hacking our way through the jungle of competing options online.

Yes, she charges a modest booking fee, but considering the time and trouble dealing with her saves us, Cindy is worth every penny. And, almost always, her recommendations are cost-competitive with any other source.

More Folks Are Hiring a Professional

A recent article in The Globe and Mail suggests that our preference for using the services of a bona fide travel agent might not be as idiosyncratic as we thought. Quite the contrary. We may be on the leading edge of a trend. The Globe and Mail story opened like this:

Barry Pilbeam had never used a travel agent before. But he decided to turn to one for a trip from Calgary to southeast Asia with his wife to make sure he was prepared for any restrictions and tricky visa situations.

Their first big trip in years, they didn’t want a repeat of the last time they booked a hotel in Amsterdam that turned out to be awful.

‘I figured I’m not going to do that ever again and I’m going to deal with a professional and know that I’ll get what I’m looking for,’ said Mr. Pilbeam, 64.

‘I got to use their expertise in what to do and where to go.’

Now he plans to always use an agent, unless he’s familiar with the location or has friends who live at his destination.

A Less Stressful Travel Experience

There’s no doubt that the prevailing chaos in the travel industry is partly to blame for what appears to be a seismic shift in travel booking patterns. Travellers want the sense of security working with a travel agent brings, based on their skills in managing any remaining travel restrictions, their access to an inventory of multiple airlines and hotels, and their availability to stick-handle travel disruptions caused by storms and other natural disasters.

The Globe and Mail story went on to quote the views of Lesley Keyter, founder and chief executive of Calgary-based agency The Travel Lady, who was reported as saying:

“People who previously didn’t book with a travel agent are feeling that it gives them a bit more comfort that they have someone to rely on. A lot of people have lost faith in the airlines helping them out.”

According to Ms. Keyter:

  • Her agency’s sales are up 28% from 2019
  • Her clients are trending younger, especially with people under 50

Ms. Keyter added: “COVID definitely sparked the rejuvenation of travel agents. Millennials don’t have the time to plan but they want to travel, so they want to trust someone to do it for them and make a transformative and unique itinerary for them.”

Crucially, when something goes wrong, a professional travel agent has access to what are known in the industry as “back-end networks” that gives them the resources to rebook a cancelled flight with an alternative airline and/or find vacant hotel rooms.

This is not to say that travellers cannot access back-end networks on their own initiative if they wish to, but a professional travel agent can access such systems far faster and more fluently than the average traveller.

6 Reasons to Use A Travel Agent

What follows are six reasons, based on our joint experience of planning and booking complex global itineraries, why we continue to use a full-service travel agency:

  1. Saving time.
  2. Eliminating stress when planning.
  3. Availability of expert recommendations.
  4. Frequent direct personal experience of destinations.
  5. Knowing how to handle the unexpected.
  6. Agents can help you navigate changing conditions.

Obviously, there are some travel situations where the use of a travel agent is inappropriate. Travel agents don’t deal with short-term rentals such as Airbnb, so you’re on your own if that’s what you want.

Ms. Keyter was quoted as making a final point. Now that travel, particularly long-range travel, has become pricier and pricier, using a travel agent to help choose the right vacation is akin to using a financial adviser as a guide in the allocation of investable assets.

“It’s very much like, are you going to sit down at your computer and play with stock markets, or are you going to an adviser?” Ms. Keyter was quoted as saying. And, she has a good point.



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