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Why use a travel agent?

3.02.15 | Nathan Collins

Now and then I still overhear the same phrases… “I just book my holidays on the internet” or “travel agents are a dying breed. I’m my own travel agent now.”

Whilst the number of general travel agents has significantly reduced due to the rise of the internet, it is also true that there has been a rise in the success of good quality, independent travel agents who can offer unique insights and invaluable experience to people they often know very well.

We have just come to the end of our biggest sales year in 29 years and whilst we are only a small player in the industry, my fellow director Oliver is chairman of a group of over 120 of the UK’s leading independent travel agents (AITO Specialist Travel Agents).  Overall, they have reported a group sales increase of over 18% compared with last year.  It seems that consumers are recognising the value of booking through independent travel agents, especially when spending their hard-earned money on what can sometimes be a serious investment in time away from home.

In my opinion, holidays are an equally important investment as choosing which shares to buy, or which savings account to open, and wouldn’t you rather rely on the advice of a stock-broker or financial advisor rather than taking pot luck on the internet?  Holidays are an investment; they create ever-lasting memories that can really enhance one’s wellbeing, as well as bring families closer together and enrich one’s life. Memories last a lifetime and it is our job to create them.

The word ‘independent’ doesn’t mean more expensive; it actually means they will ensure you book the right holiday suited to you, not the one their parent company owns or is pushing them to sell.  And remember, if you are comparing a holiday you have found on the internet, is it 100% like for like?  You may think the one the travel agent has recommended is more expensive, but it may just be slightly more money but a lot better value as it includes more, or includes experiences you couldn’t arrange yourself, or helps you avoid some nasty hidden extras not explained very clearly in the small print.

Consumer choice today is vast.  Whereas we used to have just two supermarkets in Lichfield in the 1980s, we now have five.  Online comparison sites have changed the way we buy insurances, choose credit cards and book hotel stays.  And yet there is also the rise of the local independent retailer as Mary Portas has shown over the last few years.  ‘Made in GB’ is also making a comeback as manufacturers work with the government to provide jobs and reinstate the UK as one the world’s leading quality manufacturing countries.

And yet, some people still don’t see the value placed on receiving honest, independent, comprehensive advice from someone who has visited the city or country they want to visit, even when they are planning on spending thousands of pounds.  Luckily for us, we have a loyal client base who do understand and appreciate what we do, but for many other small independent travel agents it is a constant struggle and I hope people in their areas can recognise the importance of the service they offer, like our local clients have.

Over the past few years we have invested heavily in our travel experts to make sure they have experienced many of the areas we recommend to our clients. We feel this is vital in order for us to continue to provide that five-star service. How else would we be able to put together one of the most comprehensive contact lists in the business, have hoteliers and suppliers on the end of the phone to ensure your preferred room type, vehicle or favourite dish is served at dinner?  How else would we know what time to recommend you visit the Uffizi gallery in Florence, or which exit to use at Tokyo’s busiest train station? These hints and tips are invaluable and only available when booking with us because we have been or know someone who has.

The moral of my column is this: next time you are planning your holiday, go ahead, do your research the normal way you would.  If that is by calling us or your local preferred independent travel agent then that’s great.  But if you do end up always spending hours trawling through the internet, find yourself confused by advice of friends and family, or maybe you do some quick research and find exactly what (you think) would be great for you … just give your independent agent a call.  Don’t just ask them to beat the price (remember it’s about the service they offer).  Give them a chance to offer some extra value-added service to you as a customer. Simply say to them: “I’ve found this holiday, I was wondering if you thought it would be good for us and if we are paying a fair price. Here are the kind of things we like and here is what we have found…” They may say yes, it’s perfect, or they may have a trick or two up their sleeves to make it a trip of a lifetime.

Thanks to everyone who has booked with us over the last 29 years. We look forward arranging more wonderful holidays over the next 12 months.


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