In today’s technology-filled world, we have easy access to all kinds of information. We’re able to research, compare, and book travel right in the comfort of our own home. In the past, we relied solely on travel agents to find the “right” flight, the perfect hotel or the deepest discount for us. I doesn’t seem that long ago that I would drive to the travel agency to pick up my “paper” airline tickets. So, the question is, with all of this information so readily available, has the role of the travel agent become obsolete? What services can they offer that we can’t do for ourselves?
I believe that travel agents today still offer services and information that we can’t get online. Granted, some things such as booking a simple flights, most people can successfully manage on their own. A travel agent however, can recommend smaller, alternative airports that the discount carriers use. This alone can save you quite a bit of money. However, the key thing that travel agents today offer is their first-hand knowledge and experience. In planning a cruise vacation, I want to talk to a travel agent who’s specialty is cruising. They have traveled on many different cruise lines and can give me much more insight that a brochure or web page can. The same thing goes for tours and specialty travel such as luxury, adventure, villa rentals, etc.
The question is, since there are travel agents and agencies everywhere, how do you find a reputable one? There are several things you can do to help you in your search. The first thing is the most obvious – Referrals and recommendations. Now, just because your friend has been going to a particular travel agent for years doesn’t mean that this agent is right for you. Perhaps your friend primarily books cruises and you are planning a trip to Africa. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Have they ever been to the destination you are looking to visit?
The second thing I look for is certification and professional associations. Many travel agencies require their agents to have passed the Travel Agent Proficiency exam or “TAP”. This test was developed by The Travel Institute and the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) to provide a national standard of entry-level proficiency for the travel industry. The International Airlines Travel Agent Network (IATAN), is another measure of credibility. An IATA number identifies an agent and their agency as a bona-fide travel professional who now may qualify for reduced rates or other industry concessions.
Finally, check to see if they are a member of the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA). The ASTA is the world’s largest association of travel professionals with over 20,000-plus members. Ask your travel agent if they are a member or you can search the ASTA website to find an accredited agent near you by simply putting in your zip code. There is an excellent “advanced search” feature that will let you query by destination or specialty. All of travel agent profiles will not only display name and contact information, but will also give information on their areas of expertise and languages spoken. Using an experienced travel professional not only has the advantage of having your travel planning for done for you but you will also gain valuable insight and possibly a discounted rate to boot!