There’s no end to the choices people have today, whether it’s where to shop, what to buy and especially where to travel, but one of the most important choices a person can make is the decision to use a travel agent when planning their next vacation, according to the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA). The association’s most recent consumer promotion of professional agents spells that message out clearly.
“Gone are the days when a travel agent just got you from Point A to Point B,” ASTA president and chair, Chris Russo said. “Today’s agent is a travel counselor skilled at not only providing their clients with their dream vacations but at giving them great value for their money. They are experts at navigating the Internet, and act as advocates on their clients’ behalf in the event something goes wrong, such as a natural disaster or political unrest. Travel agents understand that travel planning isn’t just about places, it’s about people.”
Here are just a few reasons of the reasons why ASTA suggests consumers use a professional travel agent to assist them in planning and booking travel:
• Customer advocacy: If you have a problem with a particular part of your travel experience, the agent is there to act on your behalf to see that restitution is made. ASTA, for example, is the only travel industry association aggressively fighting to improve the travel experience, and air transportation in particular, for all consumers, not just those with access to the Internet.
• Expert guidance: Travel agents, unlike instructions on a Web page, are experts in understanding and deciphering the myriad travel information and codes out there. It's what they've been trained to do and they do it every day.
• Personalized service: Instead of an impersonal voice thousands of miles away, travel agents are your neighbors. They know what you want and what you value in your travel experience.
• Professional advice: Travel agents are there to make sure you get where you want to go, when you want to go and for the lowest price.
• Time: Instead of checking a long list of travel Web pages, which only provide rates and fares for the companies that have contracted with them, why not go straight to the source? A travel agent has all the information at their fingertips, saving you a few hours in front of a computer screen or on hold.
• Unbiased information: Agents work for their clients, not for a travel supplier. It makes sense that a happy customer will be a repeat customer.
ASTA is also providing consumers with a detailed list of tips and advice for seeking out a professional travel agent:
• Go with the Pros: Look for the ASTA label. Through its continuing education and training programs, ASTA prepares its members to operate high-caliber, competitive businesses.
• Ask Around: Tap friends, neighbors and relatives who use an agent they trust. You may want to visit or call several agencies to find the one that best suits your needs. Consider everything from the appearance of the office to the agent's willingness to listen and answer questions. The best agents want to establish a long-term relationship with a client, not just make one sale.
• Ask about Fees: Good agents will notify their clients of any additional fees, including service fees, up front. Doing otherwise is pointless, as the fee will appear as a separate charge on the client's credit card bill.
• Check Credentials: Many agents have been trained in business management, travel and tourism or geography. Others have supplemented their agency experience with extensive education and training courses. Some travel agents are Certified Travel Counselors (CTC) through the Travel Institute or Master Cruise Counselors (MCC) through the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA).
• Find out an Agency's Track Record: Visit ASTA.org to see whether a member agency has had a complaint against it in the prior six months. Check with the local Better Business Bureau, while keeping in mind they will only have records of agencies that have had reports filed against them.
ASTA urges consumers to find a professional travel consultant who can help make their cruise vacation an unforgettable experience at TravelSense.org’s ‘Find a Travel Agent’ search directory, or by requesting a free trip quote online.