The internet has made booking travel easier and faster than ever, and some have seen this trend as the end of the travel agent.
But the turmoil of the pandemic and its aftermath have shown many travelers the benefits of using a travel agency.
As cruise lines report record bookings, people are reconsidering booking on their own. In fact, leading travel agency American Express noted in a trend research report that 60% of respondents plan to use a travel agency.
If you’re one of those travelers looking for a travel agent to help plan your cruise, here are our top ten things to look for.
Get a recommendation
The best place to start looking for a travel agent is with family and friends.
Get their experiences and opinions. Ask them how long they have been dealing with their travel agent? What do they like (and dislike)? What kinds of benefits do they offer and would they use them again? Most people aren’t shy about this and you can expect plenty of advice.
Other options include social media such as cruise forums and message boards, where posters are often eager to help with recommendations. An online review of a travel agency and agent can also be helpful, focusing on the general consensus of reviews.
One of the biggest misconceptions about cruises is that all travel agents charge a fee. While some might, vouchers won’t charge customers for a consultation or booking a cruise because the cruise line pays them a commission.
Additionally, your travel agent should be able to help you with pre- and post-cruise hotel reservations at no additional cost.
What advantages do they offer?
Although not guaranteed on every cruise, travel agents may offer perks like extra onboard credit (OBC) or perks like a complimentary dinner.
One of the biggest benefits of booking with a travel agent is that they handle changes, cancellations, rebookings and remind you of payments, which has been invaluable to customers during the pandemic.
With today’s long customer service wait times (sometimes hours), it’s much easier to let a professional handle these kinds of issues.
Most cruise lines allow customers to revise their prices if their cruise fare drops or goes on sale, and a travel agent can help you with the process, saving you time and money.
Experienced travel agents know the different cruise lines and have traveled themselves. This does not mean that they must have been on every ship and in every port, but rather that they know the type of voyage you are interested in.
A good travel agent will understand your unique preferences and tailor the experience accordingly. There are tons of cruise options, from small ships to mega-ships and everything in between. The ships sail around the world, including to popular destinations such as the Caribbean, Alaska and Europe. A travel agent will guide you through the multitude of alternatives, helping you find the best cruise for you.
In most regions, travel agents do not need specific credentials to do their job. Still, most have taken courses and participate in ongoing development to learn about the latest in the industry.
Many of the best agents are affiliated with organizations such as the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA), which is the largest in the world and maintains a code of ethics and requirements for its members.
In Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, agents must pass an exam and must be registered with the government’s travel regulator to operate.
Everyone has to start somewhere, and a new travel agent may not be a bad thing, but it’s crucial to deal with someone affiliated with an organization or work with a team, so that in your absence, someone else can help you.
Unfortunately, some of the worst travel agent stories come from a travel agent who goes missing and doesn’t return calls.
A real test of a travel agent comes when things go wrong. Canceled flight ? Pandemic? Hurricane? They will know how to navigate customer service and figure out next steps while remaining calm.
A true professional will offer balanced advice that illustrates the pros and cons of different options and will never be pushy about which cruise to choose.
Great communication skills
Whether you’re talking on the phone, emailing, or meeting in person, communication skills are paramount to a good travel agent. This is the kind of thing you can find out from references and reviews.
Be candid when meeting a new agent. Discuss expectations, deadlines, and preferred communication methods to get a sense of their style and whether it works for you.
Ask them for an introductory call or meeting.
A good potential travel agent should be happy to have a quick meeting. This is a great opportunity to assess them, ask questions and discuss expectations.
An agent who is unwilling to meet without a firm booking is a red flag.
Local can be a plus
A local travel agent may be helpful for some cruise passengers. This can help them better understand your specific travel requirements, especially if you are traveling to another region/country and need a passport or other required documents.
Some people are happy to buy local and contribute to the local economy and jobs. If something does come up, they like the peace of mind that their agent is nearby, and they can drop by for a visit and discuss the details in person.