Hiring a travel agent to take care of your vacation is just as important a decision as hiring a mechanic, plumber, babysitter or even a doctor. You’re entrusting someone to do a job you need done and in most cases, there’s a financial stake. Before you hire anyone to do anything, it’s important to ask the right questions.
“Like any transaction, consumers should be wise when choosing their travel professional,” said Rhonda Day, Dream Vacations Franchise Owner and Vacation Specialist with Vacation Days Travel, from Louisville, Kentucky. “Your travel is an important purchase and it should not be left to chance.”
Is Working With a Travel Agent Right For Me?
“There are plenty of great questions to consider asking your travel agent and many of these depend on the particular destination you have in mind,” said Rafa Mayer, Founder and CEO of Say Hueque, located in South America.
Mayer said that it’s important to understand the role travel agents serve, because while it may make sense to work with a travel agent in one instance, it may not be the most strategic move in another.
How Long Have You Been in the Travel Business?
Day suggests asking your prospective travel how long they have been in the travel business.
“Are they independent or associated with a larger agency?” she said.
Susan Kelly of Luxury Adventure Trips, an affiliate of Travel Experts said asking about their length in the business will give you a more specific picture of who your travel agent is and what he does. Also ask about what trips they’ve worked on for others in the past few months.”
Do You Have Experience with My Destination?
“It is important that clients feel confident in their agents’ skills and knowledge,” said Jeannette Candau, co-owner of European walking tour specialist, The Blue Walk. “Especially when researching more off-the-beaten-path destinations, clients should ask about the agent’s specific experience in the area. Have they been there? What type of travel did they do and for how long? Good travel agents welcome these questions because they are eager to prove their value to you. Agents can be especially helpful when looking at less traveled destinations, because they may have insider knowledge that isn’t readily found online.”
Experience is also important to Sandy Nussbaum-Giercyk, from Instant Impressions. “Anyone can research, not everyone can experience,” said Nussbaum-Giercyk. “When did you go to this destination last? How many times have you been to the destination?
How Did You Become a Travel Agent?
“This answer will give you many clues as to how long they have been in the industry, their passion and focus and their experience,” said Becky Lukovia, Bella Travel, an affiliate of Travel Experts. “A traveler should ask questions that reveal the professional level of their travel advisor. A vacation is an investment and consumers should seek advisors who can bring a high level of consultative services to the table—even if they charge a fee.”
What is Your Specialty? What Makes You an Expert in That Area?
“It’s becoming more common for travel agents to specialize in order to stay competitive,” said Corey S. Determan, Good Travels Advisor & Certified Cruise Counsellor in Jacksonville, Florida. “However, it seems every agent is claiming to be a specialist in luxury travel. Given the higher commissions associated with luxury travel, it’s easy to imagine why, but how many of these agents have first-hand experience in such travel?
Determen suggests finding an agent that specializes in the type of travel that meets your needs—be it a specific location, family, adventure, ecotourism or whatever. “Ask for proof that they really know this type of travel and are not just claiming to because of some travel fad or desire for a bigger commission check,” said Determen.
Do You Charge a Fee for Your Services?
“Some charge just for searching and putting together quotes, some do not,” said Determen. “Make sure you know ahead of time what you will be billed for so that there are no surprises. There is no right or wrong just like some mechanics will charge to inspect your car and some will only charge you when they actually turn a wrench. Everyone’s business model is different and every client’s means are different.”
Are You Part of a Membership Club?
There has been a recent explosion of “travel clubs” that promise great travel deals in exchange for a monthly membership fee that goes toward points. “The catch, however, is there are often many restrictions on these points and when/how they can be used,” said Determen. “Likewise, many of these clubs will encourage you to pay higher fees to move up membership levels and then recruit your friends and family to join under you. In essence, they are nothing more than multi-level marketing schemes and they drive legitimate travel agents—who run full-time, licensed and insured businesses and who invest much time and energy in their credentialing, marketing and supplier relationships—crazy.
Determen said you should only pay for services and products rendered. “No more, no less,” he said
Ideally, R.D. Gavel, from Travel Repertoire, an affiliate of Travel Experts said the process should be less about your questions than your answers.
“Many of the issues travelers encounter could be mitigated or avoided entirely by asking the right questions,” said Gavel. “While online sources are not in the business of asking questions, asking questions is the business of the travel advisor.”
Gavel said that a great advisor will spend a significant amount of time learning about you before offering suggestions, and it’s one of the very best indicators that you’re working with the right individual.
“The more you can share regarding your vision for the trip—your past travels, your favorite destinations, hotels and ships, the types of experiences you enjoy, your budget and spending priorities—the better,” said Gavel. “This information will help your advisor identify the products and services that are the best fit. The one thing you should always ask yourself: “Is my advisor asking ME all the right questions?”
Kelly agrees. “If you feel the travel agent is really drawing out your heart desires and listening to you by making suggestions that click with you, you’re in the hands of a good travel agent,” she said.