If you think planning, booking, and taking a trip has become far more complicated than it was in the past, you’re right.
An increasing number of once do-it-yourself travelers are turning to professional travel advisors to help navigate the formidable challenges of post-pandemic travel.
That’s because travelers have encountered hassles before and during their trips—including flight cancellations, unexpected travel disruptions and delays (including transportation strikes), and difficulty securing reservations because of the marked uptick in demand (aka “revenge travel”).
Surging costs is another reason people are now turning to travel advisors. “When clients see the prices—especially for international travel—they get sticker shock,” says Gary Pollard, President of Ambassador Tours. Clients want to see if it’s possible to save money, he says, or at least to avoid costly mistakes.
The American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA), the leading industry trade association, recently reported that 71 percent of consumers think travel is more complex in this “new world of travel.” About 45 percent said that “using the services of a professional travel advisor would help put their minds at ease.”
Travel Agent/Travel Advisor: What’s in a name?
In 2018, ASTA replaced the term “travel agent” with “travel advisor.” The rationale was that the former implied a transactional role rather than that of a consultative relationship with an expert.
When people travel during uncertain times, having a trusted advisor can not only help them make good decisions but also feel comfortable about making them. “In addition to expertise, kindness and caring forms a bond that goes beyond merely arranging travel,” says Eric Goldring of Goldring Travel.
Reasons to rely on a travel advisor
From the mouths of luxury travel advisors, here are five reasons you may want to use a travel advisor on your next trip:
1- They can save you time
“People can spend hours upon hours researching destinations, deals, hotels, and sightseeing tours,” says Avery Harris of Viking Travel.
”A professional who knows a client’s needs and interests can help them accomplish the same thing, in a fraction of that time.”
2- They help minimize risk
“Managing risk is part of what we do,” says Harris. “We know seasonal trends, price fluctuations and popularity cycles. For example, I can advise a client on the ideal time to buy their airline ticket at the best fare. A human with specific expertise is able to make better judgments than a computer.”
“Travel advisors know which companies are reputable and offer good service,” adds Pollard of Ambassador Travel.
The consequences of making a mistake can be especially high when a traveler is planning a complicated trip like a wedding, milestone birthday or anniversary that involves coordinating multiple itineraries with other family members and/or friends.
3- They can troubleshoot problems
Whether it’s a flight cancellation, problems at a hotel, or an unexpected illness before or during a trip, a travel professional can quickly jump in and assess the situation, and then navigate all the roadblocks to find a solution,” says Maru Hyndman of Travel edge.
When one of her clients came down with COVID in France during the height of the pandemic when policies were constantly changing, Angela Adto Tepper of AZA Luxury Travel helped arrange a long car ride to Paris for her client with a contact with whom the advisor had previously worked. “The fact that neither of my clients spoke French complicated the situation,” she says. “But I was able to keep the lines of communication open with everyone involved until my client arrived back in Seattle.”
In another instance, Trisha Pergande of Seven Oysters Travel had clients traveling in Greece last summer when there was a ferry strike. “My in-destination partners were able to get the clients rebooked from the ferry to a flight so they didn’t miss any of their tours or activities,” she says. “This all happened in the local time zone while I was still sleeping, which underscores why it’s critical to have partners in destinations who can troubleshoot problems like these.”
4- They can make you a VIP
Most travelers don’t have long-term connections with different travel companies and vendors. “But a travel advisor does, and that can change your entire experience,” says Susan Zurbin-Hothersall of Travel Edge. “For example, at hotels, they can arrange room upgrades, complimentary breakfasts, surprise welcome amenities, or credits for use at the hotel spa, bar or restaurant,” she says.
“We know the right people who can do amazing things for you at a hotel,” added Diana Hechler of D.Tours Travel. “We can ensure you’re in one of the best rooms in the category you’re paying for.”
5- They can connect you with their local network
Over time, advisors and agencies also develop a network of resources at various travel destinations. “Locally-based experts are knowledgeable about the hottest new restaurants, off-the-beaten-path experiences, and unique cultural opportunities,” says Lauren Doyle, The Travel Mechanic.
The priceless and irreplaceable human touch
How does someone find the right travel advisor?
Travelers need to do their homework to find the best individual to meet their needs, which often turns out to be a mix of chemistry, experience and cost, along with a referral from a satisfied friend.
Fee structures vary by advisor and may also be based on the complexity of a trip.
“Just as people pay for the professional services of lawyers and accountants, there are often service fees for travel advisors,” says Michael Johnson, President of Ensemble Travel, a consortium of travel advisors and top-tier travel agencies throughout the US and Canada.
“But using a travel advisor can save time and money because they afford access to negotiated rates as well as amenities and perks that individual travelers can’t get on their own.”
Johnson doesn’t believe that AI will ever be able to substitute for travel advisors.
“We’ve seen this ‘movie’ with the rise of online travel agencies (OTAs) and the predicted demise of travel advisors. One of the things we learned is that technology will never replace the guidance, expertise and hands-on support of a human,” he said.