Travel advisors may be just the ticket

Recent winter storms left thousands of airline passengers stranded when flights were canceled, but not everybody got stuck. 

“We got a call from a panicked client about flight cancellations during the ice storm. We were able to quickly look in our system and see what flights were available. We told them to check out of their hotel immediately and get to the airport, and if not, they would likely have to stay where they were for two more days,” says George Balogh, a travel advisor and president of Blue Skies Travel in East Greenbush.

Balogh took care of the new arrangements, and his client was not among those at the airport searching airline websites on their cell phones and waiting in long lines scrambling to sort out their travel woes. 

It’s not just Mother Nature’s increasing unpredictability that is complicating. COVID and the rules and requirements around it have complicated travel. “There is also a whole new demographic of traveler that is looking to get more out of their experiences. Whether that be connecting more meaningfully with the destination, breaking out of their comfort zone or having a personal transformation, these people understand the value that a travel advisor brings to the table,” writes Jenn Dolan, owner of her own agency, Travel Awakened in Long Beach, New York, in an email. These are just some of the reasons travel advisors are seeing a boost in their business.

Traditionally, travel advisors, formerly known as travel agents, were the go-to when you were ready to hit the road. Then came the internet with its online travel resources that ushered in the era of DIY travel. The internet nearly ended the travel advisory business. Now, travel advisors are again being turned to for globe-trotting advice, primarily as a result of travelers seeking help to navigate COVID and all its issues. So while COVID wreaked havoc on the travel industry overall, there’s a silver lining for travel advisors.

In fact, in a research study last year from the American Society of Travel Advisors and Sandals Resorts, 44% of those surveyed said after the pandemic is over they will be more likely to use a travel advisor. That’s already happening as many travel advisors report an uptick in business, particularly among people who say they are using a travel advisor for the first time.

“Last year was interesting, with a younger-than-usual guest profile, and more people taking their first trip through a travel advisor or agent. So many people told us things like, ‘I usually book all my own travel, but this made everything so easy.’ They turned to an expert because of concerns over solving any problems that might come up due to changing regulations,” writes Charles Neville, marketing director of JayWay Travel in New Rochelle, New York, in an email. “Our bookings are at pre-pandemic levels.”

Why use a travel advisor?

Travel advisors are a major timesaver, as they can handle as much or as little as you require for a memorable trip. They’re also available 24/7 if a tour is canceled, you get sick, a connecting flight is canceled and more. 

“It’s nice to have someone in your corner to talk you off the cliff when something goes awry,” says Balogh. “A travel advisor can navigate you through the chaos.”

Helen Papa, principal of TBH Travel in Dix Hills, New York, says more travelers are partnering with a travel advisor since COVID after suffering through canceled trips, long hold times, and confusing and ever-changing policies and restrictions from the travel suppliers they previously booked with directly. “Keeping up with the changing rules for international travel, forms, and protocols can cause aggravation and frustration for travelers,” she writes in an email, “but with the guidance and expertise of an advisor who has early knowledge of updates and more resources, navigating travel during COVID is less stressful.”

It’s not just COVID hurdles that a travel advisor can help you overcome. Nothing beats a good chat about what you want from your vacation to help the advisor create a plan that suits your preferences, interests and budget. You’ll benefit from their experience and knowledge. There are travel advisors who specialize in certain segments, be it family travel, adventure destinations, or particular regions of the world, for example. Because they are industry insiders, you’ll benefit from their connections with perks such as complimentary room upgrades, daily breakfasts and other goodies you may not get on your own.

“The amenities you’ll receive on a hotel stay working with an advisor are often valued at more than $500 per stay,” says Papa.

Travel advisors often have access to experiences you never even dreamed were possible. They can secure VIP access to exclusive entry to events, private tours, and other experiences not available to someone booking on their own. 

What’s it going to cost me?

Fees vary, depending on the scope of your vacation. Kim Parizek, of Boutique Travel Advisors in Carlsbad, California, typically charges from $250 to $500 for a week of curated travel to a destination. “For a custom trip with prearrangement of guides, the $500 comes into play. The $250 might be in a booking to find the right tour or cruise for that client,” she writes in an email. “The $500 curated weekly trip includes custom research into getting the client there with entry into each country, visa requirements, finding the right hotel with amenities. We also spend a lot of time finding the best air within our contracts, prearranging activities, private tours, restaurant reservations, transfers to/from the airport, travel insurance and any other personal needs a client might have, i.e. allergies to feather beds or pillows,” she says. For frequent travelers, Parizek offers a yearly plan for $1,950.

Balogh says his firm is different in that they don’t have a price list for a menu of services. Fees vary. “We have a guarantee. If you don’t believe our fee was worth it, it will be refunded.”

Is a travel advisor for you?

For sure it’s empowering when you create your own travel plan. But there’s something to be said for having someone else do the heavy lifting. “People like to think they can do things themselves and sometimes when things line up, they can get complex things done,” writes Mitch Krayton of Krayton Travel in Denver, Colorado, in an email. “But the nature of complex things is that all the pieces of the puzzle keep moving and change shape and if you don’t have the inside contacts and professional clout and respect, you are in for a long and anxious experience. If you use a hairdresser, mechanic or electrician, you could do all of those things yourself too, but most people don’t because they would rather go to a trusted and skilled person to get the job done quickly and correctly. It’s the same for travel.”

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