Shameless Moochers

If honesty is good for the soul, after this post I should be no more than a couple of certified miracles away from sainthood.  I am going to make an admission about the travel industry which, while it is stating the bleeding obvious to travel industry insiders, goes largely unnoticed to the uninitiated.

Korean AirTravel agents, practically without exception, are all shameless moochers.  Think about it.  Have you ever seen an anorexic travel agent?  If you think the term moocher is harsh, I Korean Airactually toyed with the terms parasites, sponges and bloodsuckers before dialing it back a bit.  Without a doubt, one of the great benefits of being in this industry is the endless stream of supplier events.

Take last night as an example since my memory fades rapidly beyond yesterday’s breakfast.  I was invited by Stacey  Montgomery to attend a Korean Air event at a unique, edgy private venue called 7 Senses.  I mention her name because somewhere in the midst of the free-flowing adult beverages, I promised her I would subtly work into this post what an all around fantastic person she is.   Based on the quality of the event, I can fulfill that pledge with a clear conscience.

Korean AirThe purpose of this particular soirée  was to celebrate the increase in flights from DFW to Seoul from five a week to daily.  I gladly rejoice with them in this important announcement but my point is, my fellow attendees and I would have been there had they been celebrating Korean Independence Movement Day.

When you have labored in the travel vineyards as long as I have, you develop an intuition about who is going to sponsor a great event.   My radar did not disappoint last evening.  Given my legendary sweet tooth, it is not surprising that my favorite food station was the one pictured below.  The assortment included Bananas Foster shots, Triple Chocolate Mousse shots, Apple Caramel shots, Cheesecake shots, Tiramisu shots and Strawberry Shortcake shots.  Let’s just say if these were shots of alcohol instead of desserts, this picture would include me lying under the table!

Korean AirPerhaps the evening’s biggest surprise was being handed a very nice parting gift as I left and being told that there was even more food out in the parking lot!  Say what??  As I stepped out into the dusk to retrieve my valeted car, what before my wonderous eyes should appear (not Santa and his reindeer but almost as amazing), a bus with “Gourmet Korean Tacos” blazoned across the back.

Korean BBQLest the overly literal misinterpret this little tounge-in-cheek exposition, travel agents are among the most professional workers I know. They labor long hours orchestrating other people’s joyful experiences often with modest compensation.  Nice events such as the one last night are both productive investments of their time and richly deserved diversions from their daily stress.  I am merely having a little fun at our own expense.

So thank you Stacey Montgomery and Korean Air for a wonderful evening and good luck with your new flights.  It is reassuring knowing that in this turbulent industry where I ply my trade, I may well someday end up homeless but as long as I own a sportscoat, I will never starve!

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

Missionary Travel: You Render Service, We Provide Support

Most traditional bricks and mortar (or, in our case, cardboard box and bailing wire) travel Missionary Faresagencies have some combination of business, vacation and group travel.  A few may focus on just one of these but most, like ours, do some mix of all three.  In addition, many of us have some special niches.  (Do you prefer to pronounce niche like “peach” or niche like “sheesh’?).  Anyway, we thought about specializing in left-handed, Bolivian unicyclists (apologies to the British sitcom The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin), but decided that niche might be a trifle too narrow.

Early on in our corporate existence, the opportunity came for us to organize some large groups of volunteer missionaries to Australia and, as often happens. a niche was born.  In the intervening years we have sent literally tens of thousands of missionaries (some career, the majority volunteer) to some of the most unpronounceable corners of the world.  Based on my dubious reputation, I know you think I am making these up but I promise you we have sent people to: Ouagadougou, Lilongwe, Timbuktu (yes, it really is a place), Kinshasa, Lodz, Bhubaneswar, Ndola, and LuandaAlso, be very careful when booking Nanning and Nanjing.  There is a difference and, in case you are wondering, the difference is nearly nine hundred miles!

Some of you might have justifiably concluded from my previous ramblings on this blog that I am guilty of consuming vast quantities of oxygen here on planet earth with no offsetting contribution whatsoever to mankind.  In defense of my humble existence,  I thought I would inform you about this salutary, beneficial and constructive dimension of our business. Hey, we are not all Mai Tais and coconut bras around here!

We have created a kind of sub-site on our company website exclusively devoted to this service category.  You can click here to visit those pages.

Missionary Travel

Some of the world’s largest airlines have ceded us access to special discounted missionary fares which have two distinct advantages.  They are very competitively priced and, equally important, they allow more flexible travel rules and restrictions.  We even have some special baggage concessions.

There are several very helpful bits of information on the site such as a list of Seven Tips To Safe International Travel For Missionaries.  You can find out what to do if you discover that a four-foot, black mambo snake has curled up in your skivies during the night.  OK, I made that up but you really can get helpful tips about money, luggage, health, etc.

You will also find a list of a dozen on so Handy Travel Resources for international travel covering everything from passport information to travel warnings, currency conversion to a world clock.

Missionary TravelOn the off chance that some of you reading this post are also travel agents, we can actually help you access these fares for your missionary customers as well.  We have a special section on the main page of the missionary travel section entitled, strangely enough, Travel Agency Owners Section.

Finally, we have created a special Missionary Travel Facebook Page where we invite you to pose questions, share stories or post pictures of you own missionary endeavors.  Come follow along!

Missionary Travel Facebook Page

Hopefully, with this post have I have managed to redeem my image, at least marginally, in your sight.  If you would like to know more about this meaningful aspect of our work, you have only to ask.

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!