As coronavirus affects travel, benefits of booking with a travel agent become clear

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If there is one thing we have learned from this disastrous epidemic, it is the undeniable value of a travel agent. Throughout the past month, we’ve seen the world go from bad to worse with travel – both leisure and corporate – taking an unprecedented hit that the industry has not seen on this side of the 11th. September.

We’ve all seen the horror stories come from social and mass media. Wait times for calls to online travel agencies (OTAs), airlines and cruise lines reach a maximum of 3 to 4 hours, and then be disconnected. Customers are expected to travel during the week, but cannot reach anyone to cancel their vacation for a refund or travel voucher.

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Spreading social media to OTAs and airlines has proven to be effective to some extent, but how many travelers really know how to use Twitter and Facebook for these purposes? Using the word “mass hysteria” might be overkill, but for the travel industry as it stands today, it is fair.

This is where we come in. Your trusty neighborhood travel agent – as a millennial I prefer “travel counselor”, thank you very much. Yes, we are still here. Online travel agencies haven’t quite taken over the travel world yet. In fact, we are still there en masse. Contrary to popular belief, travel agents have experienced significant growth in recent years.

That is to say until now. The sharp drop in sales over the past two weeks is staggering and the cancellations are even worse. But here’s the thing. We do everything we can for our customers, regardless of our losses. This is our job. This is what we are here for. Perhaps most importantly, we answer our phones.

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There is a common misconception that travel agents are only for the rich. It is believed that our high fees can be avoided by taking advantage of OTAs and large market wholesalers such as Costco Travel which sell package vacations and cruises by the hundreds of thousands. The point is, we usually don’t charge high additional fees (if any) as all of these commissions come directly from our suppliers.

Frankly, we are middlemen (and women). But we are intermediaries who provide personalized personalized service. Most agencies work the same. The agent you get is the agent you work with from designing the trip to welcoming you to your home. We pride ourselves on the personalized service we can provide that giants like Expedia and Costco just can’t. Have you ever heard of an Expedia agent calling with a genuine interest in how your trip went? Tip, call bots just don’t do that. All of this and more at little or no additional cost almost sounds too good to be true, but it is not!

As travel agents, we are trained in the art of crisis management.

Usually on a much, much smaller scale (broken ankle in London, canceled return flight from New Zealand etc), but we are still dealing with this stuff on a daily basis. We are known to go above and beyond for our clients as they are our lifeblood and our livelihood. And I’m not just talking about my agency. They are simply standards followed at all levels in all agencies. So, with the coronavirus case, we are doing everything we can to make our customers feel safe whether they cancel or not. It is at times like these that we receive additional praise for our services, even when it is to our detriment.

Let’s say this with an all-too-common scenario we’ve seen over the past couple of weeks. Photo having booked a $ 10,000 cruise. Surprise! The coronavirus hits and you make the difficult decision to undo. You call the travel agent who sold you the package eight months ago. Two rings and you get an answer in a friendly voice you know. After a few small chats and jokes, you let your agent know about your cancellation and chat options.

It is presented to you in black and white. Here are your options, here is what we can do. You get a reminder at the end of the day saying it’s done and because your agent urged you (dare I say, insisted) to purchase cancellation insurance for whatever reason, always important, you get reimbursement. Ended. Easy. Due to this special circumstance, a future travel voucher was an option, but why not have the money in your pocket? Of course, we as agents had to wait an hour with the tour operator and / or airline and possibly exchange a few emails, but that’s not your problem as it’s not your job. This is what we are here for.

Now what about this one? Photo having booked a vacation of $ 10,000. Surprise! The coronavirus hits and you make the difficult decision to undo. You first call the cruise line to inquire about your options. After a long wait, they tell you to call the big market wholesaler because you booked it through him.

Then you call the number provided. Three hours of terrible music later, there is a click and then nothing. You just got cut. You finally succeed after repeated attempts and the agent on the phone – someone you’ve never spoken to before – informs you that there is no insurance on the package, so it is non-refundable. . You withdrew from the insurance because there was no one to personally explain its importance. It’s easier to click no than to say no.

But, again, due to the circumstances, you may get a voucher for future travel. That’s $ 10,000 worth of a voucher tied to an entirely unknown future of travel and, of course, there are expiration dates involved. What happens when you’re finally ready to change reservations? Be prepared to wait again, talk to another stranger, and be at high risk for further frustration.

This is, of course, an extreme case, but it happens to travelers all over the world every day.

With “mass hysteria” comes mass confusion and it is so vital to have someone to give you peace of mind, especially at times like these. Two of the most important things we want to see protected – ourselves (and our families) and our money. Why put that in something you can’t trust? The coronavirus has affected the travel industry in a way that is unlikely to see a 100% recovery in the years to come. But it has also taught many travelers a lesson and that is the importance of a travel agent – a travel advisor – if you will.

In a DIY world that often leans more toward independence and automation, it might take an event like this epidemic to make us realize that customer service is still alive and well. We are always ready to tackle these major travel issues with the best interests of our customers in mind.

And, if I may say so myself, we do it well.


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