In my role, I am among the more fortunate people on the planet who get to travel to amazing places around the globe. And you can imagine that I need no convincing when it comes to choosing a method for booking my travel—I have two amazing agents for personal and business travel. But in the recent past, I have had occasion to travel on two really important personal trips: a trip to southern Africa where I proposed to my wife, and our honeymoon to Prague, Croatia and Venice. I decided to use these trips for an experiment: I booked the engagement trip through my agent, and the honeymoon entirely on my own.
Afterward, I could identify five clear differences between the two trips:
Advice & Planning With agent: We discussed the type of experience we wanted and our budget, and received an informative package of brochures, sample itineraries and most importantly, personal advice based on experience—a painless process that resulted in a perfectly tailored itinerary.
Without agent: I spent hours plowing through web sites, checking fares online, "Googling" everything, and feeling very uneasy that what I was seeing on the screen was not what I was going to get. My saving grace was Nena Komarica, General Manager of Croatian National Tourist Board, who gave me excellent advice.
Booking process With agent: Every aspect (airfare, lodging, ground transfers, etc.) was handled for us. All I did was provide credit card and passport info.
Without agent: After comparing one web site to another, I'd go to book, put in my credit card number—and the screen would freeze and I'd have start over. I also made countless expensive international phone calls to hotels.
Documentation With agent: We were handed a well-organized portfolio of vouchers, receipts, a detailed itinerary, excellent maps and helpful instructions on weather, packing, safety, vaccinations, etc.
Without agent: I had a manila folder with about 50 pieces of paper I printed out from web sites, and a couple of guidebooks I bought at Barnes & Noble.
Accountability With agent: At a border crossing from Zambia into Botswana, our driver dropped us off alone at the edge of the Chobe River told us to wait for "a guy" in a boat. I phoned my agent (using the free cell phone she gave me) and she immediately reached the ground operator, who radioed the "guy," who showed up.
Without agent: I don't even want to think about how the situation might have been different.
Value With agent: Using an agent with "connections," we got upgrades and special treatment throughout our trip.
Without agent: I found later that I could have gotten better connecting flights and the same hotels at a lower cost using my agent.
Travel agents offer the best deal in town: You charge small or no fees, offer expert advice, are willing to take calls from southern Africa in the middle of the night, and can find deals that consumers can't find on their own. Feel free to share my experiment the next time someone asks why they should book through you and not Expedia.
Kerry J. Cannon, Jr. Group Publisher [email protected] 212-895-8247