It worked for Antony Jones and Mandy Coombs, who are currently on an eight-week post-retirement trip across North America hosted by Carla Dakin at Not Just Travel in Christchurch (notjusttravel.com). Some of the things on their itinerary include a cruise from Banff, a trip on the Rocky Mountaineer, a drive along Route 66, trips to long-forgotten ghost towns, and a stay at one of the oldest hotels. from Oklahoma.
“I had organized a lot of trips myself before, but we have quite a few friends who lost money during Covid,” says Coombs. “A few of our own trips were also canceled but, as we had booked through Carla, we knew we could get our money back.” This time around, when British Airways canceled their flight from Heathrow to Calgary via Chicago, Dakin managed to reroute them via Dallas at no additional cost.
Not Just Travel is part of Hays (haystravel.com), the High Street giant with more than 400 shops, but Dakin personalized the couple’s itinerary rather than pulling it straight from a brochure, adding downtime to a busy schedule and personally recommending some of the hotels. It’s a reflection of changes within the group as a whole: Aware that people’s holiday tastes have changed in the four decades since it opened, Hays has used the pandemic to better gauge what people expect from a travel agent, now offering tailored trips alongside once-in-a-lifetime experiences, like seeing orangutans in Borneo or going to Machu Picchu.
For Jones and Coombs, aside from the action-packed itinerary, one of the most amazing benefits of booking through an agent was the money they saved. “We look at the prices online for the hotels we’re staying at, and the difference is mind-boggling,” says Coombs.
The reason for these savings? Hotels and tour operators often offer special deals to agents that the public never sees. This can mean 10% off the best available web rate for the Standard hotel chain, or the prices of some Intrepid Travel packages, for example. Some new agents, such as Ultimate Travel Club (www.ultimatetravelclub.com), have been set up specifically to make the most of it.