Obviously, I wholeheartedly agree with everything you've said, Paul. But then again, I am a little biased on the matter.
While I definitely can't speak for all agents, we do have our fair share of 'shoppers'. It's just the nature of the beast, so to speak. Most of the time, these people are honest and let us know they are shopping, but yes, there are those who just want to pick our brain and then book with the cheapest website they can find. Not much I can do about that, but since the overwhelming number of people who contact us are well-meaning, I don't let the few 'shoppers' bother me. I know for a fact, other agents will feel different and therefore will do one of two things; either they will 'qualify' the perspective customer to see, as best they can, how serious they are about booking a cruise. Of course, there will still be some that just 'use' the agent for information. The other type of agent are those who charge a 'fee' for their services and when booked, the fee is directly applied to the cruise payment. I just believe that most people are honest, but I don't get too detailed unless I feel the customer is truly interested in booking with me. And I don't worry about those who aren't.
Now, with that said, I've been accused of doing too much 'marketing' on here because of my posts. To that I will say if anyone reads my post, I've never said call me or contact me for more information. I've never said I could do something that other agents can't do. I don't send private messages selling my services. Yes, I often advise people to work with an agent, as well they should. I've been doing this for a long time and the one thing I've learned is that if I wasn't an agent, knowing what I know now, I would never book it myself and would always use an agent. Simply stated, as you mentioned Paul, if you have a problem, an agent can be invaluable. Otherwise, you can be left to your own devices and not only end up getting screwed, but perhaps paying alot more in the end.
I do belong to a couple of forums (I'm an officer on one of them) and I really like passing along information to help people with their vacations. I've always enjoyed assisting people, going so far as to write newspaper articles so anyone can be more aware of their options. Knowledge is a wonderful thing and everyone on these forums likes to provide information or they wouldn't be here in the first place.
But if providing information from an insider's perspective is considered marketing, then my definition of the term is different than others as that is not my intention. If you ask a mechanic why your car is making a noise and he provides information to help you fix it yourself, is he/she marketing? Yes, he probably will tell you to use a mechanic, but that's your choice. That has always been my perspective on the matter - I would prefer everyone use an agent for many reasons, but that's their choice. If they choose not to use one, then they really need to understand the risks and be educated so they don't make mistakes that will cost them alot of money or turn their vacation into a nightmare. Which, after all, is what everyone on here wants for everyone else.
As I say all the time, opinions are like bellybuttons - everyone has one. (That's the politically correct way to put it.) My other favorite express is, what one person loves, another will hate. So if people only listen to one opinion, they are not going to get the whole picture since everyone looks at things differently. It's important to get as many different opinions as possible to help you find the right cruise (or vacation) that's right for you based on your personal likes/dislikes, needs/desires, lifestyle, and budget. Which is why I'm always encouraging people to join forums like this and participate in conversations so they can get as many different opinions and as much information as they can.
Sorry, didn't mean to get too far off the subject matter, but it all does come around to one thing; information. You can never get enough of it and you always want to get it from as many sources as possible. Things change all the time in the travel industry, so it's important to hear from everyone.