In these days of easy online booking, searchable flights, hotels and attractions databases and oodles of sites which make it ostensibly easy to sort out your holiday from the comfort of your chair, why would you do anything as old-fashioned as using a bricks-and-mortar travel agent?
It may seem like hassle to get out of said comfy armchair, head out in the blazing heat and take half an hour to book a holiday, but there are distinct benefits to doing it old school.
Sara McKay is a former travel agent of some two decades’ experience, having worked in the United States as well as the Cayman Islands. She is in little doubt about the benefits of using a professional.
“Here in Cayman there was much more international travel and a mix of business and leisure travel,” said McKay.
“One thing I liked when I was a travel agent was hearing first-hand, up to date stories about the destination which would then assist me in passing that knowledge on to others.”
Leisure travellers may not have known which dates or destinations they necessarily wanted to go to, so they would look for guidance and suggestions.
“The travel business has changed because people can research and even book on the Internet. Now we travel a lot, my husband travels a lot on business and for that particularly he uses a travel agent.
“If you need to change your ticket the travel agent can do that more easily. You can send the agent an email in the middle of the trip. If you needed to go on a multi-destination trip an agent can work out the best fares and you can save a tremendous amount compared to trying to combine different airlines. To find out that sort of information, as a private traveller I simply could not do it.” A travel agent, on the other hand, specialises in their contacts, knowledge and ability to get straight through to the heart of the situation, explained Linda Gayler of Travelpros Cayman.
“A travel agent offers protection. If you are at an airport and your flight is cancelled or delayed for any reason we are at the end of a phone to help sort it out and get your flight sorted.
“But if you have booked online, nine times out of 10 there is nobody you can get hold of and you are at the mercy of whatever is going on at the airport. We charge service fees but we take on a lot of responsibility for that. We are here for a reason and we offer all kinds of services that you just cannot get online,” said Gayler.
The travel agent added that she even gets calls from people who have booked online, asking her to sort out issues with their reservations. But the travel agent does not have access in that scenario.
“Or they don’t understand a certain rule; I have had people who have misconnected themselves. People like lawyers and law firms always use agents. They are far too busy to sit there sorting out their complicated itineraries.
“I can understand someone sitting there booking Miami, for example, and a hotel, online. But when it comes to complex itineraries you do still need a travel agent,” she said.
Indeed, the advice on AA’s site, added Gayler, for a round the world travel ticket, is to contact a travel agent.
McKay noted that often individuals using a travel website can get caught up simply looking for the cheapest fares but this can cause issues with mis-booking.
Agents, however, have access to information on such things as seat booking and assignment, priority wait lists, knowledge of luggage rules, upgradable fares, how fees, weight restrictions and more vary by airline plus hotel, cruise and air specials that are not online. Group travel and complicated bookings are also better dealt with by the experts, she noted.
“Getting a good travel agent is like getting a good hairdresser or a doctor that you trust and can work well with.
“You are paying for knowledge. A good travel agent is worth their weight in gold,” concluded McKay.