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Adventure Blog

The Return of Travel Agents

Buzz Poole
04/23/2012 - 08:44
The Return of Travel Agents

In this past Sunday’s New York Times Michelle Higgins wrote about how travel agents have figured out how to compete with, and often better, the vast, dizzying online options travelers must contend with when looking for deals, or simply accurate information. While the article makes clear that travel agents will not regain their status when compared to the pre-internet era, things are looking up. According to the article, “in 2011 travel agencies experienced a second consecutive year of growth; their bookings account for a third of the $284 billion United States travel market.”

There are many reasons for this growth. First and foremost, with so many websites out there offering reviews and deals on everything from flights and hotels to restaurants and guided tours the amount of information becomes daunting. How do you sift through it all? And where do you even find the time to do it? With the exception of total dumps, most every establishment has its fans and its detractors because so much of what makes or breaks a place is a matter of taste.

Unlike the recommendations offered up by anonymous reviewers on websites and online forums, the information provided by travel agents is how they stay in business. If a travel agent makes mistakes, that agent won’t be successful so it is in their best interest to offer clients the best information, and deals, possible. As the article points out: “Agents today also know they must set themselves apart from the Web by offering special experiences that consumers can’t easily get on their own, like after-hours tours of the Sistine Chapel . . . or the ability to pull some strings to get clients into that sold-out hotel or on the next flight out when bad weather strikes.”

When I was growing up my family didn’t take many big vacations. But when my folks decided to take us somewhere, they used a travel agent. When my dad reluctantly agreed to take me and my brother to Disney Land he insisted of our travel agent that she find a hotel that was close to the park, and capable of “serving strong drinks” so he could decompress in the evenings (though I’m not sure any number of gin on the rocks could have decompressed him enough to deal with my unfortunate run-in with the all you can eat taco bar). When in college my friends and I decided to backpack around Europe, I followed in my parents’ footsteps and relied on our local travel agent to help me find a cheap flight (anyone remember CityBird?) and book my Eurorail (now Eurail) pass.

True, I’m not inclined to use a travel agent today when looking for a straightforward flight, but if I were planning on taking a trip full of multiple legs and tricky transfers, say like on the Trans Mongolian Railway, having an expert help plan the trip would make perfect sense as their expertise trumps the random rants, raves and opinions found online.

What do you think?

Bonus link: Even the budget-minded Frugal Traveler thinks highly of travel agents!

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