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February 08, 2012

Who Loves You Baby? Your Travel Professional Does!

Courtesy of DestinationsTravelMagazine.com

 

You’ve decided it’s time to get away.

You’ve worked hard all year, you’ve saved your vacation days, and now it’s time to plan that well-earned holiday or vacation. You want to take a trip and travel.

But where?

Do you want it to be pampering luxury travel? Do you want to rough it in a pristine wilderness?

What about a foreign country that you’ve never seen? Is it safe? Are there areas you should avoid?

What it you make the wrong decisions? What if your precious time away is ruined because you made some bad choices? How can you avoid making them?  Talk to friends? What if they’re wrong? Do some research online - where all they care about is “heads and beds”?

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Who can you trust for some honest, well-informed advice?

What if your ‘best friend’ was an experienced, knowledgeable individual who had all the latest and hottest travel news at their disposal and knew you well enough to help you make the right decisions?

What if your best friend was a travel professional?

Why use a travel professional?

   1. They know more than you do - Many travel professionals have spent years to obtain special certifications. They attend seminars and special training via the industry. They have access to training most of us just don’t.

      2. They have ‘insider’ connections. They know who to call to get done what they need to get done... when and where they need it. Make no mistake about it, travel professionals have a certain loyalty and respect for other travel professionals. Travel professionals are the ‘bread and butter’ of the industry. They have clout.

   3. Contrary to what you hear and read from online discount sites, travel professionals have an ‘edge’ for getting some of the best pricing available. Deals come across their desks regularly. Last minute cancellations, special incentives, special promotions... they ‘get it.’ And they pass these opportunities on to their valued clients.

   4. When you are traveling, and suddenly face a change of plans, a crisis, or have questions and need answers... fast, who can you call if you book yourself? Safely entrust your travel plans to your travel professional, and you are in ‘good hands.’ You will have a contact, a safety net, a ‘go-to’ person in case of any emergency. Worth its weight in gold.

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   5. Looking for added value, upgrades, VIP treatment? No one has a better handle on that than a qualified travel professional. Think you know the ropes? You’re no match for what they can do, including room upgrades, hard-to-get reservations, better seating at an event, access to premier openings, and they can put you in touch with their personal friends and travel professional acquaintances like chefs, tour guides, and others.

   6. They can also save you time and money. They KNOW when a special promotion is coming up, they KNOW what days of the week are the cheapest to fly, they KNOW how to get you premium travel arrangements and discounted rates. You may be able to make your own travel arrangements, but cheaper does not equate better, and your travel experiences may suffer the consequences.

Here are the advantages of using a travel professional via Maya Northen, Chimera Travel, LLC  -

Destination knowledge and experience: how do you know that the hotel or even the destination you chose is really the best option? Did you know, for instance, that Venice floods in the certain months and water can be knee high or higher? Online travel companies don't tell you that. In fact, they encourage you to go by lowering prices during those months. Same for many Caribbean islands during hurricane season – prices are lower, encouraging clients to travel there. They don't mention that your vacation may come with a tropical storm or worse. These are all things a professional travel planner will relay to their clients and, in doing so; help them plan a vacation that truly offers what they're looking for.  

Industry experience: entry and exit requirements and airline regulations, to name a few, change often. Some countries, for instance, charge an entrance fee of up to several hundred dollars per person. Is this information you want to be surprised with when you arrive at your destination after a long overseas flight? These are details an online booking agent may well not alert you about, but a travel planner will.

Saving time and frustration: There is so much travel information online that it can be overwhelming searching through it all. Furthermore, it's difficult to know what you can trust and what you can't. Travel planners can help you narrow down these details – from the section of the city to stay in, to weather to fly or train between destinations, to the best museums to visit while there, and so much more. People seem to have increasingly little free time these days – think of what you could be doing with that instead of sorting through pages and pages of online travel material.

Emergency help: What if something goes wrong during your travels? If you call an online company, chances are you're getting a call center representative – not a true travel planner, let alone one that has experience in your destination. How can they help with your particular situation in the quickest and most effective manner? Do you want to sit on hold waiting for the next available representative during an emergency? A travel planner has the knowledge needed to help you in this situation, is much more accessible than a large internet company with a call center full of non-travel-expert reps. 

Just what could go wrong without one?

From  Barb Stetzer of Misty Travel, here are some things to keep in mind -

Are you aware of what you really are booking when you call the 800 numbers?  Did you take the time to read the fine print and what it involves?

 Airlines change their schedules and what are your options? Does the 800 number call you to alert you?  Did you speak to the same agent who made your original reservations?

Is your room guaranteed at the hotel?  What if the hotel is sold out upon your arrival and your room is not available there and you are moved to another hotel?

 My clients are the travelers who make their reservations with me and trust me to safeguard their dreams.

 What were your travel nightmare experiences?  Who held your hand throughout the ordeal?  Who did you call first?

 My deposit for a reservation is credited to your account once you book with me.  My knowledge has come with years of certification, constantly updating my credentials, attending seminars and webinars to continue my certifications, and from my personal experiences. I am a professional and proud to be a travel advisor.  This is not a part-time position for me.  I am available 24 - 7 for my clients.  

I have connections with various resorts and cruise lines. 

I know where to reach a solution to your problems should they arise.

 I take time to know your individual desires and preferences. I Listen to you! With me, you are not pressured into purchasing the last room at the resort or cabin on the ship unless this is truly the case.

There are many common misconceptions about travel professionals.

Although it is hard to believe in this online ‘enlightened’ age we live in, misconceptions within the travel industry are keeping travelers from the very expertise and travel assistance they should be relying on.

Misconception 1: “Travel planners are not professionals – they just do it for the free travel.” This couldn't be more false. First, very few of us actually even get free travel these days. So we can eliminate that part of the misconception right there. Secondly, the training and education for travel planners is entirely too numerous to list here – from full four-year programs at colleges to industry certification programs to continuing education at industry conferences.  People are choosing travel planning as a career, and we're very serious about it.

Misconception 2: “Travel planners just up the online price without telling me to make extra money. They aren't looking for the best price for me.”  The truth is, we're very transparent in our pricing. We work with a wide variety of supplier partners that can help us get lower rates and we discuss any fees we have up front with the client.  We can't work for free (who can?), but we don't arbitrarily boost up the price and not tell our clients.  After all, an unhappy client will not book with us again or refer us – why would we try to “cheat” them out of money? Plus we know clients often look at prices online. It would be silly, not to mention wrong, to add hidden costs and pretend it was the best price. 

Misconception 3: They get incentives to only book with certain suppliers, so they aren't really looking at the best options for me. Once again, why would we book a client on a vacation that wasn't best for them? Our clients are our business – we want to make sure their experience is the best possible.  Sometimes we do have trusted partners, but this is simply because they're exactly what their name implies – the partners that we trust the most who we feel do the best job for our clients. And if for some reason they aren't the best option for you, we are happy to find one that is. 

Misconception 4: Perhaps the biggest misconception is “I don't need a travel planner because I can do the exact same thing online.” I don't deny that it may be possible to get a flight and hotel to your desired destination online, and possibly at the price you want.  However, simply getting the same trip online does not in any way mean they're getting “the exact same thing” that you'd get when using a travel planner. The online lacks several major benefits that an experienced professional can provide.

So what should you look for in a travel professional?

Whether their title is travel planner, travel professional, travel consultant, cruise consultant – look for an industry ‘professional,’ someone for whom travel is their career or profession. Avoid someone who is in it as a hobby.

Look for someone who is accredited or who has travel industry certifications or other qualifications.

Barb Stetzer, for example, has earned several industry certifications including:

Certified Travel Consultant designation-

The highest accreditation in the travel industry, conferred by The Travel Institute upon travel professionals who complete an advanced two-level certification program, demonstrate extensive industry knowledge and experience, and exemplify the highest standard of professionalism. This certification requires fulfillment of annual continuing education credits.

Cruise Line International Association (CLIA) Master Cruise Counsellor (MCC) designation-

This required completion of a comprehensive program of cruise sales, classroom training, and product instruction, delivered through a combination of ship inspections and personal cruise experience. CLIA certified cruise counselors are widely recognized as the foremost cruise vacation experts among American travel professionals.

Barb also continues her education and certifications through the Travel Institute and Cruise Lines International Association.  Specializing in Luxury cruises and resorts, Caribbean, destination weddings.

 Barb has also has certification conferred by many tourist boards such as Bermuda, Mexico, Aruba, Peru, and Hawaii.

Maya Northen has an MS in International Marketing from St. Joseph's University.

 

She also serve as the Vice President of Membership for the Philadelphia Area Chapter of Meeting Professionals International (PAMPI) and is the President of the Delaware Valley Chapter of American Society of Travel Agents (DV ASTA).

Maya has also taken specialist courses through The Travel Institute for luxury travel specialist, destination weddings & honeymoon specialist, adventure travel specialist.

Other qualities to look for according to Maya Northen -

Honest and up-front: I think this is truly the most important - I disclose my fee structure up front, I'll tell someone if I have or haven't been somewhere, I will tell them if I think the trip is a bad idea even if it could be a big booking for me (ie going to Jamaica in the hurricane season). People need to feel that they can trust their travel planner 100%. Not only are they more likely to book, but they're more likely to refer you as well.

2. Experience and knowledge - this doesn't (always) mean letters after their name and it doesn't mean being in the industry 20 years. It means they should be knowledgeable about the destinations they're selling and know where to get any information that they personally don't know - ie DMCs, local tour operators, hotel contacts and other suppliers.

3. Flexibility: A travel planner should always plan with the client's needs, interests and preferences in mind. This means that if, for instance, the client rejects the planner's favorite big hotel in the city because they want a smaller boutique option, the planner should be open to this. Those that are inflexible are the reason people often think that we get "kickbacks" for working with certain suppliers and don't truly have their best interests in mind.

4. Reliable and communicative: Clients (unless they're overly communicative) shouldn't have to keep contacting the planner to see where the plans are. The planner should be keeping the client informed. Granted, some clients want to know every move we make and email several times a day, but in general, we should be doing what we say we're going to do, when we say we're going to do it and communicating these steps to the client. Even if you have to email a client and say "I'm still waiting to hear back from that hotel on the final quote, but I just wanted to let you know so you where I was in the process".  It's ok to have nothing too exciting to share - it's better than them thinking you forgot about them.

5. Personable and approachable: Travel planners, like so many others, are in the customer service business. The clients need to feel comfortable with us. You may have been to every country in the world five times over, but if a client doesn't feel they can talk about their plans with you and ask questions, they probably won't book with you.

What NOT to expect from a Travel Professional -

However, it is important to also mention, that relationship should be based on mutual respect. The travel professional’s time is valuable and is NOT to be abused by wasting their time researching information for your travel that you know you plan to try and book online afterwards. Because of this kind of abuse, many agents will request a deposit or fee up front  – and who can blame them – which they will apply to your travel upon booking.

Trust your travel to the experts.

So why do you need a travel professional?

Well, maybe you are one of the few who really wants to take on the chores or researching airfare, accommodations, tours, etc. online. Maybe you have the time to spare, you love chasing around the internet scrounging for deals, or you just love taking chances with that next precious trip... or maybe you have inexhaustible funds and don’t care what you pay.

But if you are like the rest of us, that’s not the case.

So why risk it?

Working with a travel professional will:

Place the burden of researching, chasing, price-hunting, reserving in the hands of a pro.

Probably not cost you more, and may save you money.

May actually help you travel in more luxury and style than you thought possible.

Provide you with that go-to person you can rely on for information, who will guard you against travel nightmares.

You’ll have a ’travel angel’ to call in the event of a crisis.

And by freeing you up to focus on nothing but enjoying your trip, you just might have the time of your life!

Posted by Jo Wilson on February 8, 2012 at 06:07 PM in Travel | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack