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Furious debate erupts: are travel agents really necessary?

July 29, 2013 Corporate, Headline News 2 Comments Email Email

egtmedia59Does the public really need travel agents? An intense and passionate debate has erupted in the US after the American edition of Women’s Day magazine ran a contentious article headlined: “Ten Things Travel Agents Won’t Tell You”.

The Women’s Day list of 10 things was pruned down to nine after the magazine admitted that a point about travel agents collecting commissions from airlines was plain wrong. The American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) contends that other elements in the story are inaccurate as well. It is working with the magazine to correct them.

Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) has also taken issue with the article, attacking its “unfair and negative depiction of travel agents”.sarawak250x250

Even with just nine points instead of 10, the list of “things travel agents won’t tell you” has stirred intense debate and much anger from agents, generating over 1400 comments (some of them furious) shortly after it appeared.

The nine things that agents apparently won’t disclose (according to the article’s author Anne Roderique-Jones) are, in short: 

  1. Agents earn commission “and maybe even a bonus” for booking travel. Overrides, contests and rewards influence agents’ decisions on which products, cruises and holidays to recommend.
  2. Agents may not be able to book (or price) all airlines. Some airlines are not in the GDSs or booking engines.
  3. Agents may not have been to the hotel or on the cruise ship they’re recommending.
  4. Consumers can save money by being flexible with travel dates and airports. [US agents apparently don’t reveal this to their clients, according to the article.]
  5. Travel insurance may not be necessary. [That’s what the article says.] Some travel agents push insurance because it could increase their commission. Consumers may be covered by insurance on credit cards.
  6. Agents are best for special or complex trips. Consumers can book simple point-to-point travel themselves. [This will hardly surprise or shock consumers in Australia.]
  7. Online travel sites now offer refunds and cancellation policies.
  8. An agent won’t necessarily find the best price. Consumers can sometimes do better online or phoning a hotel.
  9. Consumers should sign up for (and use) a travel rewards card.

That is the list, in essence. Not mentioned in the list are some of the spectacular and expensive blunders consumers make when booking their own travel on the internet.

One American travel agent responded with this comment: “What Travel Agents REALLY won’t tell you is how hard they work and how little commission they get paid. This article is unbelievably irresponsible and misleading. I trust that you’re honest enough not to call yourself a journalist.”

The American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) was quick to respond with a list of its own, headed: “Eight Reasons Why Booking with a Travel Professional Creates Value”.

John Pittman, ASTA’s vice president, industry and consumer affairs, said ASTA was “working constructively with Women’s Day “to correct the errors in the story”. Pittman also said ASTA had been in direct communication with its agent members angered by the Woman’s Day story.

Here’s ASTA’s Eight Reasons Why Booking with a Travel Professional Creates Value: 

  1. Customer advocacy: If you have a problem with a particular part of your travel experience, the agent is there to act on your behalf to see that restitution is made. ASTA, for example, is the only travel industry association aggressively fighting to improve the travel experience, and air transportation in particular, for all consumers, not just those with access to the Internet.
  2. Expert guidance: Travel agents, unlike instructions on a web page, are experts in understanding and deciphering the myriad of travel information and codes out there. It’s what they’ve been trained to do and they do it every day.
  3. Personalised service: Instead of an impersonal voice thousands of miles away, travel agents are your neighbours. They know what you want and what you value in your travel experience.
  4. Professional advice: Travel agents are there to make sure you get where you want to go, when you want to go and for the lowest price.
  5. Time: Instead of checking a long list of travel web pages, which only provide rates and fares for the companies that have contracted with them, why not go straight to the source? A travel agent has all the information at their fingertips, saving you a few hours in front of a computer screen.
  6. Unbiased information: Agents work for their clients, not for a travel supplier. It makes sense that a happy customer will be a repeat customer.
  7. Value: Travel professionals have access to online deals, as well as many consolidators that only work with travel agencies. A travel agent will help you find the best products that provide you value.
  8. First-Hand Experience: Many travel professionals have been to where you want to go and will give you the inside-scoop on what to do and when to do it. Look for a travel professional that is an expert in your chosen destination or type of travel.

ASTA’s Consumer Tips On Choosing a Travel Agent:  

  1. Go with the Pros: Look for the ASTA label. [In Australia, AFTA pushes a similar message.] You can also search for travel professionals with expertise in specific destinations and types of travel (i.e. scuba, adventure, etc.)
  2. Ask Around: Tap friends, neighbours and relatives who use an agent they trust. You may want to visit or call several agencies to find the one that best suits your needs. Consider everything from the appearance of the office to the agent’s willingness to listen and answer questions. The best agents want to establish a long-term relationship with a client, not just make one sale.
  3. Ask about Fees: Good agents will notify their clients of any additional fees, including service fees, up front. Doing otherwise is pointless, as the fee will appear as a separate charge on the client’s credit card bill.
  4. Check Credentials: Many agents have been trained in business management, travel and tourism or geography. Others have supplemented their agency experience with extensive education and training courses.
  5. Research your Agency’s Track Record: Visit ASTA.org to see whether a travel agency is an ASTA member.

Written by Peter Needham

Currently there are "2 comments" on this Article:

  1. bruce weston says:

    good article , mostly correct , [both sides ] i travel overseas at least twice a year quite often an agent can get me a better price than i can get direct on the web or even with the airline , and HEH ! of course they have their favorites , wow what a surprise – and again – not all airlines [or accom ] want to deal with an agent . Just a matter of choice , i use both – sometimes i upgrade my [agent issued ] ticket with points [qantas / emirates etc ] you need to coordinate with agent but all in a days work for them , the price difference is never much

  2. Pete says:

    I like the point 2 about agent not being able to book airlines that are not in the GDS. I guess Woman’s day has never heard of t’internet eh?

    Even American Airlines value agents now after many online website only push the cheapest fare. I don’t see many website saying hey..if you went a day later and paid an extra $200, you could fly premium economy the whole way!

    I know a number of hotels that won’t sacrifice yield on websites. They would rather have fewer guests at the same revenue

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