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Why Travel Agencies Aren’t Dead Yet

Online travel agencies have been chipping away at brick and mortar agents for over a decade.  Sites like Expedia, Orbitz, Priceline, Kayak and any number of other competitors have been able to cut out the middleman from buying travel related products and services.

Related: 3 Ways To Save On Your Next Family Vacation

In the past, travel agents would earn a significant portion of their revenue from commissions generated by selling flights, but these commissions have largely been eliminated.  Some agencies will still charge a booking fee if you go into a travel agency, but these fees are generally quite low.

Today, travel agents make their money by selling higher margin products like package holidays, cruises, car rentals and insurance.

With the endless amount of travel information available online, why would anyone go into a travel agent anymore?  Buying a round trip ticket from New York to London may be a relatively painless experience, but figuring out how to fly a high school rugby team to South Africa might not be.

Here are some of the reasons why travel agents are still needed:

Knowledge

You can read all the Trip Advisor reviews you like but there’s no substitute for direct knowledge from a real person.

Engaging with someone that knows the destination you are interested in can be extremely valuable.  Not only will they tell you about some great sights but they might also be able to give you advice on visas, food, allergy considerations, alternate flight options, money saving tips, etc.

Related: Money Saving Tips From A Budget Savvy Traveller

While the Internet has all this information available, and vast amounts more, you’ll have to visit many websites and sift through a lot of garbage before you can pull together the necessary information.  You can accomplish with an agent in 15 minutes what might take hours sitting behind a computer.

Language

Many online travel websites will offer translations of their site in French or Spanish but what about Korean, Mandarin or Russian?

Native English speakers might not even consider language issues when planning a trip however someone who just came to an English speaking country might find navigating a site like Kayak.com impossible.

Solution?  They’ll go to their neighbourhood travel agent.

Complexity

As I mentioned earlier, arranging a trip for a sports team or any other large group can be a daunting task.  Planning a trip for one family is hard enough, how would you handle 20 or 30?  This is where the pros come in.

What about if you wanted to fly to Spain, take a ferry to Morocco, cross the Sahara then fly out of Nigeria?  No online travel agent is going to be able to handle that for you, a niche agent that specializes in adventure tours might however.

Related: Recessions Are Great For Travellers: Here Are 3 Value Destinations Explored

Support

One of the often overlooked advantages of using a travel agent is that you have the ability to call someone in case an issue arises.  If you call an online travel agent your call will get routed through a vast network of support people who have absolutely no connection to you.

If you dealt with a brick and mortar travel agency, you’ll most likely be able to speak with the person who you sold you the trip and knows your situation.  This is someone who you have a personal connection to, they’ll be far more likely to help.

Cost

Since travel agents are getting less and less of their earnings from the end consumer, using their services should be fairly inexpensive.  While this may be good on one hand, you should ensure that the options the agent is recommending to you are what you want, not what they’ll get the highest commission on.

For cruises, use a site like cruise compete to ensure you are getting a good deal.  Many travel agents will try to match their price to what’s available online.

Related: AirBnB Crack Down: Short Term Landlords Beware!

Online travel websites are easy to use, packed full of information and they have reduced the cost of travel for everyone.  These developments and the associated industry changes that come with them have not eliminated the need for full service agents however.

Whether you are booking a complicated trip or arranging a family reunion with 30 people, it may be best to deal with a real person!

Andrew is a Canadian personal finance and investing blogger who recently moved to London, England.  He has a background in technology and a passion for travel.  His blog, She Thinks I’m Cheap aims to help Canadians build wealth by sharing facts, stories and advice.

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6 Comments

  1. Money Beagle on August 16, 2013 at 11:13 am

    I’ve only used a travel agent once, but it was a no brainer, as we used one for our honeymoon to Hawaii. He specialized in that locale and was able to get us the best recommendations and specialize our trip to our interests. Additionally, he had tickets available for things that gave us premium status, so for example, we had front row seats to the show at a luau, whereas we would have paid the same price on our own and been in the back.

  2. Echo on August 16, 2013 at 2:45 pm

    When I worked in the hotel industry we still received a ton of business from travel agencies, especially the ones who manage large corporate travel programs.

    A travel agency can facilitate an RFP process for the company and get the best rates for its employees travelling in different cities. This would be incredibly difficult to manage internally.

    Now I work at a University and we manage the travel for all of our sports teams. It’s really time consuming and would certainly be worth outsourcing to a brick and mortar agency.

  3. Ann Bartholomew on August 16, 2013 at 2:51 pm

    Andrew,

    I like your article very much, as it says exactly what I’ve been telling people about why use a travel agent, and not just for the big trips. One thing, though. You mention a site like CruiseCompete.com, a site where some travel agents pick up requests for cheap cruises because they discount the price by rebating their commission. Unfortunately, several of the major cruise lines forbid this and have pulled any cruises of theirs featured on the site. And just as an FYI, the cheap cabins are either inside, or at the front (forward) or the rear (aft) where you’re more likely going to feel the motion, even though the ship has stabilizers to minimize rocking in rough seas; or your cabin is the deck below either the casino, or the dance floor, or the lounge where they hold the evening’s entertainment.

  4. Young Adult Personal Finance on August 18, 2013 at 5:56 pm

    Great Article! I agree with the importance of making sure that you are getting what you want and not what will give the travel agent the biggest commission. After all, it is your money that is paying for the trip. My previous experience with a Travel Agent for a trip I took to Grand Cayman & Jamaica was very pleasant. Everything went smoothly and once we got into the Islands we knew where we wanted to go & all of the activities we wanted to partake in.

  5. Bryan Jaskolka on August 23, 2013 at 8:13 am

    I don’t think businesses like travel agencies or video stores will ever go entirely out of business. Drive through any small town in Canada and you’re likely to come across at least a couple of video stores, and maybe even a travel agent. You can find these latter offices still dispursed throughout many major malls. It’s like you said, it’s the knowledge and support you receive from a real person rather than just doing everything automatically, and having only a computer with no answers to turn to when something goes wrong. Travel agencies can also give you scoops on what vaccines you need before you go (something Expedia probably won’t) as well as suggestions on how to make your trip cheaper – with much more than just a comparison chart of ticket prices.

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