What do you look for in a Travel Agent?
Written by: Rita
I recently attended a class in Fort Lauderdale for travel agents new to the industry, and my eyes were opened to many things. I think I came away from the class with more questions than answers, to be totally honest.
Sure, the mechanics of booking cruises, working with clients, customer service, etc. can be learned, but how about all the other things that almost seem intuitive?
So, I thought I would come to the CruiseMates community for answers. I tend to think this community probably has better answers than the travel industry does.
So, here’s my questions:
What do you look for in a travel agent? Is your primary concern one of price or of service? Do you have a regular travel agent, or do you book each cruise with a different one — often the one that will give you the best price? If you do have a regular agent, why do you stick with her? Does she offer superior service to the point that, within reason, you wouldn’t care if another agency was offering your cruise at a lower price? And, if your agent’s price is initially higher, would you give her the chance to match a lower price you obtained elsewhere before pulling your booking?
The reason I ask these questions is because I’ve discovered that the cruise lines give ALL agents pretty much the same price for a cabin. Sure, some agencies can possibly have group space reserved on a certain sailing, but those group prices are pretty much the same. The bookings only accrue certain amenities not available to a single booking. For example, maybe all the cabins in the group will get a bottle of champagne in the stateroom and a $50 per cabin onboard credit. Where the differences seem to come into play with price is that some high volume agents may offer “discounts” that come out of the commission they would make on the booking. Some cruise lines have disallowed this practice, but some still do permit “rebating.” And on the surface, this discounting sounds like a great idea. It seems a good way to increase bookings for your agency, and since a lot of bookings with the same cruise line often results in a higher rate of commission paid to the agency, the “rebate” the agent gives her client should result in the same basic amount of commission for the agent anyway. But do you get the same degree of service from the large discount agencies? I honestly don’t know, but my experience says no.
The problem I’ve noticed with the large discount agencies is one of service. It seems they are primarily order taking mills, and that they are pretty slim on personal service. But, of course, my experience is rather limited. Maybe some of you have better experiences If you use a large discount travel agency, are you happy with the service you get from them?
The reason I ask this is because I booked a couple of cruises through one of the “biggies” in the industry and got what I thought was a good rate for my cabin. However, I was still a relatively new cruiser at the time, and could have really benefited from some saavy advice. I made two bookings with this agency, both in the same year. Both bookings were with Princess, by my own choice.
The next year, when I wanted to book another cruise, a message board friend referred me to her travel agent. When I got that agent on the phone and told her I was a solo cruiser wanted to book a sailing on Princess, this agent seemed a bit taken aback. She told me that Princess gives absolutely no break to solos — 200% single supplement, so why would I want to sail Princess? I was shocked. I never knew that. In fact, I was still a relatively new cruiser with little “inside” knowledge of the industry. I only wished my previous agent had told me that. I only wonder how great her knowledge of the industry really was. Maybe she didn’t even know there were other cruise lines that wouldn’t charge me a 200% single supplement.
Right there, with that one piece of advice, this travel agent earned my loyalty. She made me aware that I was wasting my money — spending more for a cruise than I needed to. She then proceeded to ask me some questions, trying to determine what I looked for in a sailing, and then steered me to another cruise line where I could get a better deal as a solo, yet still get the type of cruise I was looking for.
So, what’s more important to you? Is price the guiding factor? Or, do you prefer dealing with someone who offers personalized service and whose knowledge of the cruise industry you have confidence in? Do the two have to be mutually exclusive? Have you been fortunate enough to find a travel agent who offers BOTH discounted prices AND excellent service?
The next question I have regards loyalty. Are you “married” to your travel agent. In other words, do you prefer to make all of your bookings with her, not even shopping with others? If so, has this relationship been one you’ve developed over the course of years and many bookings with her? Do you stick with her mainly because she is comfortable for you to deal with? Do you just have a great rapport with her, such that you don’t care if you are paying a little bit more?
Or, are you a person who prefers to get the best deal possible, and don’t care which agent you book with, just as long as you are getting the best possible price? Do you consider each cruise a separate transaction, shopping it around with many agencies, rather than sticking with one particular agent? Have you been successful in this strategy or have you often met with frustration dealing with some of these agents, either because of service issues or perhaps simply because they were difficult to communicate with?
Finally, how do you feel about “brick and mortar” travel agencies versus long-distance ones? Do you prefer dealing with an agent whose place of business you can just walk into when you want to make a booking? Or, do you usually make your bookings online or over the telephone, with a travel agent you’ve never met face to face? Do you feel one type of travel agent is better, or doesn’t it matter to you? Do you feel that dealing face to face with an agent is somehow more satisfying than via the internet or on the telephone?
And, on a related topic, what do you think is an acceptable amount of time for your travel agent to get back to you in response to an email or telephone message? Is the next day acceptable, or do you expect ot hear back within the hour? What about when your agent is on her own cruise? Does she have someone backing her up in case you have a question or a problem with your booking?
I ask these questions because they are things I have been thinking about quite a bit lately. And I can’t think of a better place to seek answers than right here in our CruiseMates community. So, would you mind helping me out and giving me your thoughts?
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