Navigating travel in the future is going to take more than online research and a few clicks of the mouse. Just like you would not want to take on a court battle without an experienced attorney or try to diagnose yourself when you are suffering from an illness (a WebMD search can be cause for anxiety!) you shouldn’t plan travel without the assistance of an experienced, professional travel advisor. But, what can you expect, how do they work, and where do you find a good one?
Finding a good travel advisor may be as simple as asking for a referral from a neighbor, family member, or friend, just like you would if you needed a plumber or hairstylist. If a person travels enough, they will likely have a long-term relationship with their advisor and will be happy to refer you. The other way to find a professional travel advisor is from ASTA (American Society of Travel Advisors) or from Virtuoso (many of the most experienced advisors are members). Both of these sources offer ways to search for an advisor by a location near you, their area of expertise, or type of travel you are looking to do.
So, you’ve found an advisor, what can you expect when working with them? To answer that, it’s best to understand how travel advisors work and how they get paid. Most advisors are independent contractors and/or small, independent business owners. They may own the travel agency or they may work under the umbrella of an agency or host agency. Most important to understand, they work for you, their client. They get paid a commission from the suppliers they work with, hotels, cruise lines, tour operators, and some airlines, just to name a few. Commissions, when paid, are distributed post-travel. You are not being charged extra for the commission. Suppliers like to work with advisors and agencies because they ensure repeat business.
Most advisors these days also charge professional planning fees. Fees help ensure travel advisors are compensated for their work at the time of booking. For instance, if you are planning a complex itinerary with multiple trip components, flights, car rental and three hotels in three different cities, many advisors charge an additional deposit which may apply to the final cost of the trip. That helps advisors to protect their time investment in the research and planning by discouraging clients from recreating custom itineraries on their own by booking directly. There might be a planning fee or cancellation fee. Fees will vary, but it’s a good idea to understand what the fees might be and any good advisor is always happy to explain.
Travel advisors can save you money and add value to your trip. You can’t VIP yourself at a hotel or resort, but it’s likely your travel advisor can. They have built relationships with hotels, resorts, and suppliers over the years. Their contacts at the destination are happy to assist in doing things like upgrading a room or offering complimentary breakfast. If you are celebrating a birthday, anniversary or other occasion, they can help make the moment even more special with a bottle of wine or chocolate-covered strawberries delivered to the room. Travel advisors can help you with travel insurance which is often overlooked or not valued enough.
I know many people enjoy the process of planning their own trip. They love reading up on a destination, watching YouTube videos, and plotting out the itinerary. It still behooves them to use a travel advisor in these instances, too. Having an expert pull it together can take the stress out of planning and save you money too. They are on top of trends and policies which will be very important in the post COVID travel world. If you were traveling in mid-March when the borders were closing, having an experienced travel advisor at the ready by email, WhatsApp, FaceTime, or Messenger was like have a nurse seeing you in the ER triage. The airline’s and suppliers’ phones were jammed, but advisors were there 7 days, morning, noon, and night working to get their clients home.
The better an advisor understands your travel style and understands how your needs evolve, the easier trip planning will be. Be upfront about your budget and expectations. An experienced travel advisor is not a miracle worker. They want to help clients have a wonderful trip, but part of their job is setting expectations. You can’t have a champagne and caviar trip on a beer budget, so listen when they offer suggestions and advice. They are doing so with your best interests at heart. Travel advisors are amazing at finding special excursions or experiences such as cooking classes in Tuscany, private, behind the scenes tours at a museum in London, or cultural experiences like an in-home dinner with a family in Morocco. You likely will not find those on your own.
Travel advisors are all about relationships. The relationships they have with their suppliers are for your benefit. Advisors want to build relationships with you, their clients for the long term. They are there for the engagements, honeymoons, babymoons, births & bereavements, changes of residence and job, and each time they work with you they get to know a little more about you and create a spectacular trip for your enjoyment.