Almost every industry has been affected by the growth of the Internet; some positively, some negatively and some both. Travel agents fall into the “both” category. The ever growing amount of travel information that was at the disposal of travel agents, now, with the power of the Internet, is also available to the layman internet user. Want to learn about a cruise; read reviews, watch videos about the ship, the ports, the excursions, the food, the shopping, etc? Simple, just Google it.
Wait…isn’t that what the travel agent is supposed to provide? They’ve subscribed to all the magazines and journals, and have compiled all this knowledge to maximize the vacation experience for their clients. Well, these same magazines and journals are now available online in some form or another to anyone that knows how to use Google.
So, is the Internet killing the travel agent? Well let’s just say there is some natural selection at play. Good, professional travel agents will maintain their clientele. The travel agent that has taken time to craft their skill including learning how to use the internet to their advantage (e.g. leveraging social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter) will be fine. They can combine their internet savvy with their personal knowledge of cruises, flights, resorts, etc., to provide the personal touch that is absent from many reviews, critiques and online journals. People like to get advice from knowledgeable people that they feel comfortable with. Sometimes, even if they have to pay more to get it.
Type “discounted cruise” into your favorite search engine and you will find more websites than you can count. Some sites even have price guarantees to insure you are getting the “best deal”. Can a travel agent match, let alone beat the prices on these sites? Maybe, but with the volume buying power that some of these sites have it can be tough. So is that personal attention and knowledge worth it? That depends on the customer. For people that love to plan their vacation and don’t mind the research that goes into it, a travel agent may not be necessary. If these folks enjoy navigating the web and can find reliable sources for information about their vacation options and a trusted online vendor, why not?
However, not everyone has the time or patience to jump from site to site, and read review after review, and put them altogether, take price into account, and all other criteria, and make a decision about where their vacation dollars will be spent. These folks would be wise to simply have a professional help them plan their vacation. After all, vacation time is limited and enduring a bad one to potentially save 10-15% may not be the best choice.
So whats a vacationer to do? First, inform yourself. Ask yourself a few questions before going to a travel professional: What do you want out your vacation – R&R, excitement, new experiences? How much vacation time do you have? How much are you willing to spend? Next, do a few simple searches and get a general sense of your vacation options and prices. At this point, you can decide whether a conversation with a travel agent makes sense.
As a wise man once told me: “Don’t pay $10 for a $5 bird”. Arm yourself with information that will help you get the best deal for the best vacation your money can buy. Now take a trip… you deserve it.