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Can a travel agent outsmart your smartphone?

Why travelers are turning to travel agents in the age of Google

BYKim Jakubowski
Picture a travel agent’s office, and what do you see? If you’ve cooked up images of rotary phones or the hissing sound of a dial-up Internet connection, think again. A recent study by the American Society of Travel Agents pointed to Millennials — yes, those hyper-connected, 20-something consumers with smartphones for limbs — as the generation most likely to use a travel agent. If you snorted in disbelief, you’re not alone. Why, in this era of Google and TripAdvisor, would anyone need a travel agent’s help?
Following are some of the most common objections to travel agent services, coupled with the reasons why enlisting an agent for your next vacation might be the best idea you’ve tried since online grocery shopping.
I can find better deals on my own.
A travel agent is able to look at base fares the general public isn’t able to see, often helping you get better deals and higher quality excursions, transportation, or hotels for your money. Plus, with a travel agent, you know you’re working with reputable vendors. And those hours you would have spent booking and comparing promotions? Consider them yours again.
There’s no reason to use a travel agent when I can find all the information I need online.
An agent can help fend off information overload, helping you iron out the details of your trip and advising you on what attractions you should see (or should steer clear of).
Plus, some information isn’t readily available online, and in these instances the expert guidance of an agent can make a significant difference in trip quality. Here are a few examples:
  • An agent knows the ins-and-outs of different airports, and can advise you on security timing and the minimum connection times you’ll need for a stress-free journey.
  • An agent knows which hotels are great, and which hotels to avoid.
  • For cruisers, an agent knows the differences between each cruise line and which will best meet your needs.
  • An agent will give you advice on things you may not have thought to ask Google about, such as what you need to do in advance of your trip, the best process for renting a car abroad, local laws to be aware of at your destination, and information on what you can do on your own versus what you can or should do as part of a group.
  • An agent can provide guidance on travel insurance options, helping you choose the product that’s right for you.
  • If you experience an emergency abroad, you will have someone to guide you through it. And because your issue will have more visibility with the help of an agent, it likely will be resolved more quickly. 
Travel agents are expensive.
For AAA members using a AAA Travel agent, there’s no charge for booking tours or cruises. Other fees are nonexistent or minimal for members (often less than the fees you’ll pay when using online booking engines), and unlike many online booking engines, AAA Travel agents are transparent about any fees they charge.
Travel agents are for old people.
Travel agents are for everyone who values convenience, insider expertise, and their time.
My trip isn’t long or complicated enough to merit an agent’s help.
Even for a short trip, a travel agent’s expertise can help you find better deals and escape the crowds and lines. An agent can provide tickets for popular attractions in advance, as well as information on interesting, off-the-beaten-path attractions you may not have considered including in your itinerary.
They’ll try to persuade me to pick an excursion or vendor I won’t like. Plus, an experience booked through an agent will be more packaged and less authentic.
A travel agent’s priority is to create a personalized product that makes you happy, not to push excursions you won’t enjoy. In many ways, an agent can help you create a more personal, authentic experience by giving their take on the crowd-sourced reviews you see on sites like TripAdvisor and offering information on lesser-known sites that might be of interest to you.
Hiring an agent will take all the fun out of planning my vacation.
The purpose of a travel agent today isn’t to do all the dreaming for you. Their role is to get to know you, find out what you’re looking for in a dream trip, and combine this knowledge with their expertise to help you get the most value for your time and money.
KIM JAKUBOWSKI is the associate editor of Highroads.
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