Human travel agents, 1. Online, zero.
Once again, a highly public travel nightmare has pointed out the obvious (at least to us): When things go wrong on a trip, it’s good to have a travel agent in your back pocket—or on your speed dial, as the case may be.
The troubles in Egypt have illustrated this in dramatic fashion. As the story unfolded on the news the past couple of weeks, the images of this modern-day Egyptian exodus made me think of all the frustrations these American tourists must have had just to be making a plane out of there.
A big hand goes not only to travel agents but especially the tour operators who did everything they could to minimize stress and panic during this tense time. As we reported last week on Travel Agent Central, their reactions were swift and efficient. Among these:
• Abercrombie & Kent placed clients in Cairo on a charter flight to Amman, and canceled tours to Egypt through February 28. The company said that until all clients were evacuated, they had staff at every hotel in which they were staying in order to tend to their needs and organize flights. Guests on Nile cruises flew directly from Luxor to Heathrow, where they were met by A&K staff, after doing a normal day of sightseeing on Sunday.
• Ya’lla Tours USA confirmed that all its passengers in Egypt were safe. “We were able to instantly transfer our telecommunications to land lines, we had support staff working from alternative offices as needed and were in frequent contact with key staff in Egypt to confirm that all our travelers are safe,” said Ronen Paldi, president of Ya’lla Tours USA. The company has postponed any future departures until February 13 and will reassess the situation at that time. Ya’lla is also in touch with its suppliers to determine how to handle potential credits or refunds and future announcements will cover that in more detail. April and May departures have had final payment deadlines shortened from 60 days to 45 days to allow for additional assessment of the situation.
• Ritz Tours has decided to cancel its February group departures for Egypt destinations. Clients will not be assessed any penalties and will be refunded their full tour fare (less entry visa). Ironically, Ritz Tours only began offering journeys to Egypt in January 2011.
• Trafalgar Tours canceled upcoming tours due to arrive in Egypt up to and including February 12, and customers may choose alternative tours or a full refund. Clients who planned on traveling on the company's Egypt tours from February 13 through February 28 can cancel and rebook their tours; they will be issued a letter of credit in the amount of any penalty assessed.
For the latest travel and tour developments in Egypt, visit www.travelagentcentral.com.
When I first started working at Travel Agent, friends and former colleagues would say things like "Who still uses travel agents?" and "Isn’t that a dying industry?" I’m happy and proud to say that the evidence is in, and the answer is a definitive no.