Why Gen X & Y Should Consider Using Travel Agents

Tom Lewis is a travel agent with Alliance Travel Partners, a Virtuoso affiliate (which means they are a part of a luxury travel agent consortium). While the majority of Lewis’ clients want high-end travel, he can book anything.

Lewis told me about a study that found that only a very small percent of people under the age of 35 use travel agents. He said the industry is baffled as to why younger people are not using them and most travel agents don’t know how to reach us.

I called Tom this week to learn why 20somethings (and even 30somethings) should think twice before booking their next trip online. Read the interview below, and be sure to follow Tom on Twitter at @tomtravel2.

Emily Gerson: As a travel agent, do you work with 20somethings? Why would they want to use a travel agent?

Tom Lewis: We are high-end travel agents, but surprisingly, I have quite a few clients who are in their 20s. Its been growing by word of mouth within that group. I’m 54, I have two daughters – one is 27 and one is 25. The 27-year-old’s husband works for Wells Fargo and most of his friends are business majors, lawyers, and other young professionals. Once I got them hooked on my services, they started referring me to their friends. People in their 20s are a generation that trusts their friends. That’s where this industry has done a poor job – getting its foot in the door. Once people use me, they get their friends to call me. It’s more personal.

Certainly if they’re just booking a flight from Phoenix to L.A., they don’t call me – it’s not cost-effective. The advantage I can give them is that I don’t just book them a room in a rate category – you can do that on the Internet. If a young client calls me and they booked a room at Shutters in Santa Monica, I contact the management and let them know they’re coming. They have a room in a certain category, but there’s a good chance they’ll get a room upgrade. There’s also a good chance they’ll get an amenity when they get to the room – maybe a bottle of Champaign, wine, or a fruit plate. With Virtuoso, if I’m booking a very high-end hotel, a lot of those things are guaranteed. And it’s the exact same price as you can book on travel websites.

Another advantage that I’d emphasize is that booking your own travel costs you time. The average person visits 27 websites before they book in order to gather information and compare prices. If you call or email me, within 15 minutes I can find the same information. I can give you price and itinerary in two phone calls. It’s so much easier.

EG: What are some of the most common misconceptions you see amongst 20somethings in regards to travel agents?

TL: The main one is that it’s too expensive. There are rare occasions when there are Internet specials we cant match, but about 95% of time, that cheap rate you see on Internet is the same one I’m seeing on my computer. And often, a travel agent can get you a better deal than what you’re seeing online. We can actually save them money. You retain the same price but are getting a better room and things added to it – it’s a better deal. The perception is that it’s too expensive, but the reality is that its often more expensive to use Internet. The reason I believe that most people your age assume they should book on Internet is they assume it’s always cheaper.

The other misconception is that it’s not cool. The cool thing is to go online and book your own travel. Do you think Ashton Kutcher books his own travel? Do you think Blake Lively books her own travel? No. The people who 20somethings aspire to be – they all use travel agents.

EG: I’ve read several articles recently that said travel agents were making a comeback. Do you think this is true?

TL: The tide has definitely turned so that we’re starting to win back market share. There are a number of reasons for that. I’d encourage you to do a Twitter search for the names of large travel websites and sucks or #fail. You will see that there are a lot of people are not happy with the service they get from these companies. A recently survey said only 27% of people who book all travel on the Internet are satisfied or very satisfied with the process.

Nobody has done survey like that on travel agents, but once we have gotten a customer into our office and booked a trip for them and they’ve returned, about 95% of them call us back. There’s a reason for that. We’re personable, it’s personal, we do whatever we can to make sure that the client is satisfied and has a great trip. With the Internet, you’re on your own. If something goes wrong, their customer service is very poor. With us, if you get to hotel and it doesn’t meet your expectations, we want you to call us. We may not be able to fix it, but chances are if we get on the phone with the management, we may be able to get you better room. However, there are some travel agents who are less professional and less full-service, who are basically taking orders, so you can’t really say that all travel agents do the same thing.

EG: If I was using a travel agent for the first time, how do I know what to look for?

TL: Ask them if they provide service after the sale, so in other words, if you show up at the hotel and they show you to your room and it’s not what you believed you are getting, will they intervene with the hotel and try to get you a better room?

I would also ask if the travel agent is networking. We spend a tremendous amount of time and energy meeting with hotels, hotel sales reps and managers, so when our clients go to that hotel we have established a relationship with that person. Here’s an analogy; a very well-networked travel agent doesn’t know the bouncer at the exclusive club you want to go into, but they know the person who made the list. We can get you on the list, so when you show up you don’t have to say, “This room isn’t what I wanted” – you will get there and the room is the way you wanted, and will probably be better than you expected. We contact the people and let them know we have clients coming. Often we’ll have physically stayed at hotel or done a site inspection. I can ask for room in certain part of resort because I know it will suit my client better.

Credentials and certifications are not a bad thing to look for because it shows they’ve taken the time to get trained, but not it’s necessary. To me it’s more a matter of asking the agent, “What do you do to educate yourself? What type of training do you do? Do you go to industry events?” I take training from cruise lines, tour companies, hotel chains, and so on.

EG: What types of travels do you book for your younger clients?

TL: Most of my young clients do trips like urban hotel stays in California – it’s usually pretty straightforward. Many of them could have booked themselves, but I got them extras like room upgrades, free extras, bottle of wine upon showing up – things they wouldn’t have online. I booked a trip to Vancouver and Victoria for one couple and I outlined some of the activities they could do. I have also done Hawaii and Mexico resort stays, though I plan to book more complex stays eventually. I’ve found that young professionals don’t have much vacation time – most of the people I work with are looking more to decompress than to go and see everything.

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How to Become a Travel Agent

If you are like the millions of people world wide and have become sick and tired of the same old drudgery each and every day at work, you should consider this an opportunity to become a travel agent. Many people, just like you, are looking for a way to ‘fire their boss’, work their own hours, make their own income, and right from within the comfort of their own home. What is better about working to become a travel agent, than any other home business opportunity?

Well as a travel agent, you have the ability to increase your income drastically, plus enjoy some exciting benefits, like discounts on your own cruises and vacations. How is that for a perk? When you become a travel agent, you can set your own hours, you can work nine to five, just like your peers, or any other hours you deem necessary. Just keep in mind that in order to make the money you want, you have to invest your time in the business. You will have no boss breathing down your neck to make quota or pressuring you to make sales. YOU determine what YOU want to do and just how much YOU want to do it.

When you become a travel agent, full or part-time, you have the potential of making anywhere between $2,000 and $6,400 each month. This is probably more than your current full time job and probably more enjoyable as well. Working from home saves you money, time, and your sanity. It eliminates the constant commutes to and from work daily, which saves you on gas and repairs, from wear and tear on your vehicle. Many people enjoy the idea of spending more time with their children and families, while working at home.

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Differences of Tour Operators and Travel Agents

Tour Operators & travel Agents are different in Malaysia! And the public have had the wrong perception for long time. In Malaysia, Tour Operators and Travel Agents are different and play different roles. In a factory scenario, a Tour Operator is like the production department and the Travel Agent is like the Sales Department…

A Tour Operator is the organizer and provider of package holidays. It is often referred as the Ground Handler. The Tour Company will make contracts with hotels and resorts, airlines and ground transport companies like private cars, buses, vans, ferries and trains & etc. With all the necessary pricing and information compiled, the Tour Operator will draft detailed tour packages and distribute to Travel Agents in Travel Agent Directory in Malaysia and even overseas.

The roles & responsibilities of a Tour Operator are booking and arranging:

– Transportation: Chaffered Car, Chartered Bus & Van, Air Ticket, Train Ticket, Ferry Ticket, Cruise Ticket, other transit modes and even special vehicles like trishaw.
– Tour Guide: All Tour Guides must be licensed by the Ministry of Tourism Malaysia after attending and examined in a professional Tourist Guide Courses.
– Sight Seeing: Entrance for tourist destinations, eco-tour, adventures tour, jungle trekking, snorkeling & scuba diving, island hopping and even handicraft or cultural & living experiences.
– Food & Beverage: Breakfast, Tea Time or Tea Break, Lunch & Dinner, whether by set, buffet or packed food.
– Accommodation: Hotels, Resorts, Service Apartments, Camping Sites, Dormitories, Training Camps, Chalets, Tree Houses or traditional houses & habitats that accommodating travelers.
– Activities: Tele-match, treasure hunt, paint ball, team building, outside office meeting…
– Special Events: Company dinner, karaoke contest.

On the other hand, Travel Agents do not operate tours. Travel agencies gives traveling advices to travelers, promote and sell the tour packages that they have from various Tour Operators, then administer the tour bookings. Travel Agents usually are set up in prime locations with heavy traffic such as beside the main roads, inside crowed shopping malls or at the ground floor of a landmark building.

The roles & responsibilities of a Travel Agent are:

– Selling ells travel related products and services, particularly package tours to end-user customers on behalf of third party travel suppliers, such as airlines, hotels, tour operator and tour companies, and cruise lines & etc.
– Most travel agents have a special department devoted to travel arrangements for business travelers, while some agencies specialize in commercial and business travelers.
– Some also serve as general service agents for foreign travel companies in different countries.
– Act as an agent for tour packages:
– Buy tour packages or tour services at discounts & sell with profits.
– Get commissions from suppliers & other tour companies.
– Act as a ticketing agent for transportation (e.g. airlines, ferry, bus, train & etc).
– Other commercial operations are undertaken: insurance, travel guides, car rental, Bureau de change, private tour guide & etc.
– Offer impartial travel advice to the customer.

Next time, if you traveling in small group less than 10 travelers, it is advisable to engage a Travel Agent. Do not try to find the best travel agent in Malaysia. There is no such myth! Just go with the travel agent that suit your traveling needs and budgets or the tour agent that you trusted the most. However, if you are organizing a group tour like company tour, a Tour Operator will be able to provide you a more suitable tailor-made service.

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