It may be tempting to go the do-it-yourself route when planning your vacation. After all, it seems easy enough to book a flight reservation using google or your favorite airline website. So why shouldn’t you also book your cruise, family vacation, or honeymoon on your own? When planning a luxury vacation, you should hire a luxury travel agency for the same reasons, you hire an expert to do your taxes, a financial advisor to manage your retirement portfolio, a licensed contractor to renovate your kitchen, and a realtor to sell your home. Anytime we make significant investments, it is prudent to rely on the advice and wisdom of an expert.
Here are five reasons you should contact a professional travel agency or hire a luxury travel advisor for your next big trip.
1. Expertise – “You don’t know what you don’t know”
Of course, anyone can simply book a hotel online, but how do you know you’re choosing the best hotel for your needs, travel style, budget, and personality? Advances in technology have allowed us to access infinite amounts of information with the click of a button. Still, it has also enabled companies to collect our data, analyze our search history and classify us into specific buyer personas, thereby allowing them to send us highly targeted ads. Therefore, when you search for products, reviews, or general information, the results you are seeing and the ads you are shown are not the same as those offered to your neighbor or even your partner in the next room.
Have you ever found yourself searching for a “cute romantic hotel in Paris” and suddenly you are inundated with ads for hotels in the Left Bank? They may look lovely in the photos (most things do), but how can you ensure the images are accurate? In fact, how can you even know if the hotel is in the right location if it’s in a city you have never been to? Furthermore, how do you know if you are getting a good price or completely overpaying?
Watch Out For Dynamic Pricing
Airlines, hotels, and car rental agencies count on you to make your own reservations and may charge higher rates based on your search history. This is because they use dynamic pricing algorithms, showing different customers different prices based on various factors, such as the device they are using, their location, or spending history. To be fair, these companies are not doing anything illegal. No laws stop them from showing you prices that algorithms predict you’re most likely to accept, and they are for-profit businesses, after all. Plus, it’s not just the travel industry doing this. Did you know Amazon changes product prices 2.5 million times a day? An average product changes prices every 10 minutes!
When you buy paper towels or toothpaste, it may not seem like a big deal to pay an extra few dollars here and there. But when you invest precious vacation time, months of research, and thousands of dollars on a dream trip, don’t you want to ensure you get the best product and value? So how can you confirm that you are booking exceptional accommodations, cruises, or tours?
Reputable and experienced luxury travel advisors have a keen understanding of the products they recommend to their clients, basing your itinerary on your personality, interests, and budget. No algorithm can replace the power of human connection and a good old-fashioned face-to-face. Luxury travel advisors also have access to contracted rates, value-added amenities (sometimes adding up to hundreds of dollars), and personal relationships that allow them to VIP their clients. After all, they spend years cultivating relationships with hotel owners, general managers, concierges, cruise lines, tour operators, and guides.
Ultimately, everyone understands that the better a hotel or cruise line treats a travel agency client, the more clients the agency will send them. So while you may visit a particular hotel once or twice in your life, a luxury travel agency may send them hundreds of clients per year. That is, as long as they continue to provide exceptional service.
2. Comprehensive Travel Road-Map
A full-service luxury travel agency, and experienced travel advisors will design comprehensive and customized itineraries. They may suggest destinations, tours, activities, and hotel properties you may otherwise have never known existed. For example, perhaps you’re a golfer and have always wanted to experience playing in Scottland. Maybe you want to retrace your roots and spend time tracking down your ancestral home in a tiny village in Europe. Or perhaps you are looking to take a once-in-a-lifetime cruise around the world to celebrate your retirement, but there are just so many options. A reputable travel advisor has the connections and expertise to craft itineraries that work best for you and your family. They will also consider all the necessary logistics and nuances that make a trip successful.
3. Great Service and VIP Status
When you go the do-it-yourself route, it’s often difficult to coordinate all aspects of your travel. Ensuring you have optimal flight times and connections (long-enough but not too long), orderly hotel reservations, and the necessary documentation to board that dream cruise can be a hassle. A luxury travel advisor can do all the legwork, allowing you to concentrate on preparing for your trip. And because it’s nearly impossible to VIP yourself, leave it up to your advisor to contact hotel management and tell them all about the special occasion you are celebrating and how much they would appreciate you feeling pampered.
Perhaps most importantly, the services of a good travel advisor become apparent when things go awry. If you miss your connection, get ill while traveling, or need to make last-minute changes, your travel advisor can become your greatest advocate and ally.
4. Group Travel
Are you planning a destination wedding, girl’s trip, corporate retreat, or family reunion? A full-service travel agency can make the process of organizing and streamlining group travel seamless and stress-free. Additionally, they can negotiate contracted rates and value-added amenities on your behalf. Having a group travel coordinator gives everyone peace of mind and ensures that the group’s needs are met.
Additionally, a luxury travel advisor can act as an intermediary and unbiased third party, allowing smoother decision-making, particularly when there are differences of opinion. They can also customize specific components of the trip, allowing each traveler to feel like the itinerary was designed exclusively for them. For example, a multi-generational family traveling together may want to incorporate one or two days where the group separates into smaller segments to accommodate varying interests.
5. Remote Destinations & Exclusive Experiences
Sometimes you may want to plan a trip to a remote destination that requires significant planning, permits, and connections. Other times you may be looking for an exclusive and hard-to-get experience. Many travel advisors specialize in particular types of travel and have established relationships with industry colleagues worldwide.
Perhaps you dream of having a mother-daughter high-tea with a duchess, getting a behind-the-scenes, after-hours tour of the Louvre museum, or watching an artist restore priceless Renaissance art in Florence. Maybe you want to take a photography expedition cruise to the Arctic with a National Geographic photographer, or you have always wanted to have your children participate in marine research while sailing through the Galapagos. Where would you even begin searching for this, and how much time would it take you? These are the types of experiences a luxury travel advisor will be happy to arrange.
How To Find a Local Travel Agency and Luxury Travel Advisor
One of the best ways to find a reputable professional is to ask your friends and colleagues. If you see photos of someone taking a fantastic vacation, ask them who they used to book it. If their travel agency is not accepting new clients or is not the right fit for your needs, they may be able to refer you to a colleague.
Google Local Businesses
A great way to find local businesses is on google, and travel agencies are no exception. Enter keywords in the search bar such as “travel agency near me,” “best travel advisors in Scottsdale Arizona,” or “luxury travel agents near me.” Read reviews carefully and decide whether they sound legitimate. Then check out their website and make sure that it is up-to-date and professional. Reputable local businesses will usually work hard to maintain their standing in the community and respond to both positive and negative online reviews. You should also pay attention to the style of travel the reviewers describe to determine if the type of clients serviced by the agency aligns with your ideal vacation.
While reviewing their website, you should also get a sense of the specialties and style of travel the agency caters to. For example, an agency that promotes highly tailored experiences, high-end tour operators, and luxury cruise lines such as A&K, Seabourn, and Silversea is likely not the right fit for a budget-conscious traveler. On the flip side, an agency that promotes “travel deals,” mass-market cruises, and large group packaged tours may not be a good fit for an ultra-luxury traveler.
ASTA is the American Society of Travel Advisors and “the leading global advocate for travel advisors, the travel industry and the traveling public.” Travel advisors who take the time to join ASTA and pay annual dues take their professional responsibilities seriously and maintain a commitment to servicing their clients with integrity.
Luxury Travel Consortiums
Many travel agencies belong to a travel consortium such as Virtuoso. These organizations help travel advisors by providing them with essential training, marketing material, and access to vetted suppliers. Joining a consortium requires a travel agency to submit extensive documentation, undergo a stringent interview process, and maintain high professional standards.
Local Chamber of Commerce
Most cities have a local chamber of commerce that promotes small businesses in their area. As there are strict criteria for admission and annual membership dues, luxury travel agencies who take the time to join a local chamber demonstrate their commitment to their community and professionalism.
While it’s possible to book travel on your own, why would you want to? After all, the advantages of using a full-service luxury travel agency are limitless.
9 Important Questions To Ask Your Travel Agency or Luxury Travel Advisor Before Hiring Them
1. Do you carry E&O insurance? Errors and omissions i.e. E&O insurance is a professional liability policy that covers travel agencies in a variety of situations including coverage for personal injury, negligence, defense costs, and claims against services rendered in the past.
2. Are you part of a consortium and if so which one? Although it is not necessary for a travel agency to belong to a consortium, many memberships offer travel agencies special benefits and amenities that they can pass along to their clients.
3. Are you a member of ASTA? Professional organization membership is an important indicator that the agency is committed to serving its clients in an ethical and professional manner.
4. Which professional certifications do you hold? Just like any other professional industry, travel advisors should hold certifications that demonstrate their expertise. Examples include the ASTA Verified Travel Advisor® (VTA) certification program, Signature Travel Expert, and destination or supplier-specific certifications.
5. How many years have you been in business? Industry experience is invaluable in any field.
6. Are you a full-time travel advisor? Although there are many exceptional travel advisors who may be working on a part-time basis, you want to avoid hiring “hobbyists” who may not prioritize your travel needs or hold themselves to the same professional standards.
7. Do you charge professional fees/service fees? Luxury travel advisors often charge professional fees for their time and expertise. These fees cover the time required to research and propose a comprehensive itinerary and make recommendations based on industry knowledge and experience.
8. What type of clientele do you typically service? If you are looking to plan a corporate event for your executive team in Europe you will want to work with an agency that specializes in European travel for sophisticated clients and has experience working with corporate groups. On the other hand, if you are looking at planning a family-friendly cruise to Alaska you will want to work with an advisor who specializes in family travel and has experience booking cruises. Make sure your travel goals align with the type of services the agency provides.
9. Do you have a team or are you a solo practitioner? If you are working with a solo practitioner ask what happens if your travel dates coincide with theirs? Who takes care of their clients in the event that they fall ill, have a family emergency, or are otherwise unavailable? You don’t want to find yourself in a situation where you are traveling and need emergency assistance only to learn your travel advisor is away on a cruise in a remote destination and can’t be reached.
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I’ve always wanted to observe safari life up close, so I’m thinking of going on a trip to Kenya this summer. I’m glad you told us that a travel advisor can help provide us with a customized itinerary filled with suggestions for destinations, tours, activities, and hotels we might not have known to exist. I’ll take note of this and consider speaking to a vacation planner before I leave for Kenya this summer.
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