Is there a travel adviser in your future?
For any upcoming trips, many of you will turn to a travel adviser to help with the arrangements — some for the first time.
When internet travel agencies and search systems first blossomed, some observers predicted the “end” for conventional travel agents. And many such agencies did, in fact, disappear.
But others survived, in part by morphing into travel advisers. Specifically, internet-age travel advisers found three useful niches:
— Using specialized knowledge to help consumers plan and arrange trips in today’s complex travel marketplace,
— Taking over the workload of compiling and arranging complex travel arrangements, and
— Helping big corporations manage and control their business travel budgets.
Ordinary consumers aren’t concerned with the third niche, which is filled mainly by large business travel agencies and consortiums. But many ordinary consumers are taking advantage of the way travel advisers can make their lives easier.
There’s a big difference between a travel adviser and a travel agent.
Big online outfits such as Expedia and Booking are travel agents. They can help you compare costs of various options and actually perform the base agency function of making the transaction. But they can’t sit down with you, discuss your objectives and preferences, or help you map out a complete trip.
That’s what makes travel advisers different: Yes, they can also make the transaction, but their real value is helping you zero in on exactly which transactions you want to make.
Save time, get better deals
Thus, probably the main way advisers can benefit you is by helping you plan and arrange a trip. They keep up with the latest developments in destinations and transportation services. And they may even have access to deals that aren’t offered to the general public.
Even if you keep up with what’s going on yourself, you may not want to spend tedious hours glued to your monitor, researching and comparing options. Instead, you can just tell an adviser, “I want to take my grandkids to Disney World in June” and let the adviser work out the details.
Advisers earn their income from two sources: fees you pay and commissions some suppliers offer. And you can expect to pay some kind of fee, starting around $40 to $50 and running up into the hundreds, depending on the assignment.
Airlines these days don’t pay agents much in the way of commissions, but cruise lines, hotels and tour operators do, so what you pay depends, in part, on what sort of trip you plan.
Find the right adviser
And, lastly, maybe the most important question: How do you locate the right adviser? This is a tough one — just as it is for any other personal service, from doctor to stockbroker to plumber.
As with all services, your most reliable source is word of mouth from friends, relatives and co-workers. Ask around.
The American Association of Travel Advisors (ASTA) posts an adviser locator that you can filter by specialty, such as “senior travel,” “beach vacations” or “luxury travel,” as well as by destination.
The main problem is that too many advisers claim special competence in just about everything. ASTA membership is certainly a plus, but the “ASTA Verified” certification is more a measure of how an adviser runs its business than confirmation of its travel knowledge.
Several large adviser chains operate multiple locations or affiliates around the U.S., including Internova, American Express and AAA (check websites for your state).
Some advisers focus on cruises exclusively, which is a good thing — they keep up with what’s going on. If you want a cruise, consider a cruiser specialist, although AAA is also good with cruises.
Many local travel advisers are affiliated with one of a dozen or more worldwide outfits that back up individual advisers with current technology. Google your area for candidates.
And when you spot a likely candidate, don’t be reluctant to ask for — and check — references.
Email Ed Perkins at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, check out Ed’s rail travel website at rail-guru.com.
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