Travel Deals And Other Mythical Creatures

For front-line travel agents, there is a term which is certain to elicit a “fingernails on the chalkboard” response every time they hear it and which, unfortunately for them, is thrown at them several times a day.  That word is “deal“.  It is invariably wrapped inside a question like a cold frankfurter inside a stale bun.  “Can you get me a really good deal on Europe?”  “Do you have any deals currently going on for Cancun?”

Unicorn Mermaid Phoenix

From the point of view of the experienced travel agent, the client might as well be asking “Have you seen any Unicorns lately?”  Or, “I am in the market for a cute little Mermaid.”  (OK, who isn’t?)  Or, “I would like to book a flight on a Phoenix departing from, naturally,  Phoenix”.  The problem is, don’t you see beloved reader, that the word deal is so amorphous, meaning such different things to different people, that it ends up having no meaning at all.  If you spend your life chasing a deal, you will end up more frustrated than a blind man searching for the Loch Ness monster in Sasquatch country.  I was going to say more frustrated than a lonely man looking for lasting love in a strip club but I was afraid you might leap to unwarranted conclusions about your humble scribe.

May I be so bold as to offer up a substitute term that I believe better captures what you really have in mind and has the added benefit of preserving the collective sanity of travel agents around the world.  Next time, try this out for size.  “I am looking for a really good value at an all-inclusive beach property in Cancun.”

Pepe Le PewAt first blush, this might strike you as a distinction without a difference.  But, au contraire mon ami . . . my little buttercup . .  my little wildflower.  Don’t ask me why I drifted off into a Pepé Le Pew rift.  I have no idea.  At any rate, the distinction is very real.  The word deal implies you are looking for a bargain basement, rock bottom price with no other considerations.  No sane traveler this side of Neptune really wants that.

Suppose I told you I can get you a room in Cancun for $20.00 a night?  I probably can, by the way, but I can’t guarantee you won’t be carried off in the night by cockroaches the size of Yao Ming’s sneakers.

By way of contrast, the term value implies that elusive nexus between price and features.  When you consider the fact that you most likely have limited vacation time and a finite amount of discretionary funds (we are not talking to you, The Donald), a vacation is way too precious to sacrifice on the altar of a supposed deal.  We know you want a good price.  That pretty much goes without saying.  What is almost always left unsaid is that you want as good a price as possible on a really unforgettable vacation that exceeds your expectations.

You’re in luck.  You have come to the right place.  That is precisely what professional travel agents, like ours, are trained to do.  They find the perfect vacation for you at the best possible price.  So the next time you are looking to travel, just think back on your last disappointing travel deal, slap yourself up the side of the head (gently, of course), chug a cold V-8 and remind yourself:  I could have had a great travel value.

Funjet Vacations Happy Couple

Travel Agents: Dinosaurs Or Crocodiles?

Not so much now but for several years after the internet burst onto the scene, I would get a very predictable reaction whenever I would mention to people that I was in the travel business.  They would muster their most sympathetic look and say, “Gosh, that has to Dinosaurbe really hard, what with the internet and all.”  What they didn’t say but were obviously thinking was, “Thank God I am not in a business that is going the way of the dinosaur.”

But thankfully the intervening years have shown that we are not extinct dinosaurs but extant crocodiles.  You see, crocodiles also date back to prehistoric times but unlike their lumbering, land-based neighbors, crocs have kept trucking right along.  They were able to adapt to anCrocodile ever-changing environment and they still thrive in many parts of the world today.

So why have travel agencies not only survived but by most measures enjoyed a renaissance in recent years?  Before I offer three answers to that question, here is some journalistic evidence for their revival as well as unsolicited appreciation for the work travel agents do.

Forbes Magazine article by Larry Olmsted -  Hurricane Sandy’s Lesson to Travelers: Use A Travel Agent

The New York Times article by Michelle Higgins – Are Travel Agents Back?

US News article by Daniel Bortz – Why It Pays to Book with a Travel Agent

I know with the advent of the internet you can book a trip without using a travel agent but why in the world would you?  Every good travel agency and their stable of expert agents consistently provide three things you will never get from the web.

Before you go, we offer you RELIABLE ADVICE.

In the olden days, before Google was a noun, much less a verb, our role as travel agents was quite different.  Information was hard to come by and thus we were viewed as mystical high priests, the keepers of the sacred books, the all-knowing ones.  People would come into our offices with confused looks on their faces and we would perform secret travel incantations.

Travel agent advising clientNow, of course, a deluge of information is just a few keystrokes away.  Strangely, customers still stumble into our offices with a dazed look but for a totally different reason.  Now the dilemma for the traveler is not too little information but an avalanche of confusing and often conflicting information.

Where we used to just deliver reliable information, we now curate, organize, evaluate and interpret it.  We can do this because we travel extensively, one of the key reasons we got into this industry.  We know what the beach at that resort you are thinking about is really like because we had our toes in it last month.  We know which hotels are under renovation and which cruise line has the best cuisine.  Of course none of us has been everywhere but we belong to networks inside and outside our own companies where we can source great experiential information.  Plus, we are constantly being updated by our suppliers.

By the time we dispense any travel moonshine, it has been carefully distilled.

Should things go wrong during your trip, we provide ROBUST ASSISTANCE

I often read media travel experts conceding that for complex cruise or tour packages using a travel agency makes sense but for routine flights or simple hotel bookings, you should go online.  Like most conventional wisdom, this is utter rubbish.  One of the compelling reasons to use a travel agent is to buy a little back-pocket insurance policy in case things go awry.  And, if you have taken more than a couple of trips in your life, you don’t need me tell you that things can go all pear-shaped in a hurry.

Just read Larry Olmsted’s article mentioned above.  Wicked weather or routine mechanical delays can have you crying at a ticket counter like a lost child at the mall.   You can either be that person standing in a long line praying all the options are not gone by the time you reach the front of the queue or you can be that relaxed traveler standing to the side, sipping a latte and talking calmly to his or her travel agent.

Should unresolved issues linger after your trip, we supply RELENTLESS ADVOCACY.

If you are in a bar brawl, who would you rather have in your corner:  Mike Tyson or PeeWee Herman?  Sometimes when things go badly there are financial knots to untangle.  You may well still be angry, defensive and vindictive.  You know, sort of like a divorce.  What you need is a trusted advocate.

We know who to talk to and more importantly, how to talk to them.  We have two big advantages over you in this regard.  We are not emotionally vested because it wasn’t us who was denied boarding at the cruise ship because we forgot our passport.   Secondly, this is not our first rodeo with these sorts of problems or with the particular cruise line or tour company.  We have a long-standing relationship to call upon.  We have significant production with that supplier to bolster our position.  We don’t promise the perfect outcome but we usually manage the best possible outcome given the circumstances.

So next time you travel just remember, don’t dial a dinosaur, call a croc!

Maui On The Move: Travel Trends According To You

Each fall, Travel Leaders Group conducts a survey of travel agents across the United States called, appropriately enough, the Fall Travel Trends Survey.  Travel agency owners, managers and frontline travel agents are asked which destinations are trendingTravel Leaders Fall Travel Trends Survey upward in the months immediately ahead.  What should make this survey of particular interest to you is that the agencies are asked to base their answers not on speculation, personal preference or even yours truly’s highly sought after and quickly discarded opinion but on actual forward bookings.

According to the news release of September 4th, “This survey was conducted by Travel Leaders Group from July 30 – August 23, 2012, and includes responses from 871 U.S.-based travel agency owners, managers and frontline travel agents from the flagship Travel Leaders brand, along with – for the first time ever – those affiliated with Travel Leaders Group’s Luxury Travel Network, Nexion, Results! Travel, Tzell Travel Group and Vacation.com units.”  What this means is that this year’s survey is based on a much broader sampling than in the past and thus is even more authoritative than ever!

You can read the entire survey here but I thought I would share a few highlights for those of you who live in mortal dread of inadvertently booking a vacation insufficiently “hot” (in the popular, not the climatological sense) to render your in-laws and nosy neighbors overwrought with envy.  I mean, what is the point of a great vacation if you can’t tantalize friends and taunt enemies, right?

Maui wavesIf that is your objective, than you’d better be planning to motor over to Maui (figuratively speaking, of course. I don’t recommend you try it literally.)  Here is an interesting little tidbit.  In last year’s survey, Maui was the top recommended domestic destination.  Apparently, a lot of you were paying attention to your trusted travel advisors, always a sound practice, because this year Maui jumped three spots to number two on the hit parade, a close second to Las Vegas.

For the serious jet setters among you, what does the international scene look like?  If the survey were a flower garden (never mind the fact that you would need a trowel to fill it out), Caribbean cruising and Cancun would be classified perennials.   Nonetheless, the survey did offer a couple of surprises.  Mediterranean cruising rose (pun intended) to number three on the list and European River cruising blossomed (that’s it, I promise) into the top ten.

That last result is not the least surprising to those of us who ply the travel trade.  River cruising, whether in Europe, China or Vietnam, is experiencing a boom.  I took a Rhine River cruise a while back and it was one of the best vacations I ever experienced.  Not to worry, I plan to post about it very soon.  As a quick aside, it is strange once you start blogging how you no longer have personal experiences, you only have potential blog posts!

I encourage you take a moment and read the entire Fall Travel Trends Survey news release.  You can peruse the entire domestic and international top ten list,  discover the average cost of airfares to various popular vacation destinations and even take a behind-the-scenes peek at the level of optimism we in the travel industry harbor going forward.

This is the most authoritative survey of its kind in the industry, exactly what you would expect from the Travel Leaders, the industry leading travel company.  That didn’t sound self-serving, did it?