I was at a party for a casual acquaintance a couple of years ago. I knew almost no one there so my accent is always a nice little ice-breaker.
"Where are you from? Ireland? I love Ireland! That's so cool! How long have you lived in the US?"
It's at that point they usually ask "and what do you do for a living?" I give a wry grin and reply "I work at a travel agency that specializes in trips to Ireland!" At this particular party, the asker of the questions laughed at my response. This is not uncommon. It is usually this or "OMG, I love my travel agent. I would never travel without one!"
"Those things still exist? I thought they went away with the internet?", she scoffed.
"No, no, we're doing better than ever", I said through my practiced that's-a-common-misconception laugh "and travel agencies are making a big comeback." She was giving that condescending "good for you" look that adults often give to small children. I didn't feel like chasing this any further. The conversation shifted a little towards more general travel and then the same woman, who had just heard me say I was from Ireland and worked in travel, and who had laughed at the idea of travel agencies still existing, said she would love to take her extended family on a big group trip to Ireland to trace their roots. She just had no idea where to start with such a massive undertaking and that's what's been holding her back. I like to imagine the penny dropped for her in a moment of clarity later that day.
That is just one of many reasons that travel agencies "still exist" - but why are more and more people turning to travel agents for their post-Covid 19 travel needs? Firstly, you can forget everything you associate with an old-timey travel agent who served merely as middlemen between buyer and seller. If your travel needs are simple and easily bookable online, most people will choose that option so many travel agents have adapted or disappeared. Most travel agents (or advisors or consultants or experts) are now highly specialized in particular areas and destinations of travel. You'll want to make sure you get one of these good ones and that is a whole other conversation. Traveling post-Covid 19 is going to be a little trickier but it is not going to stop most people. They have bucket lists and vacation time and they want to see the world. We've already touched on the many advantages of using a travel advisor in another blog post, but why do you need one post-coronavirus?
Cut through the noise
If you Google "best things to do in Ireland", you will likely get results for 10 listicles, ranging from 15 to 71 things to do in Ireland. If you dig deeper, you will notice that they don't all contain the same activities and attractions. I'm not sure how heavily you pack your vacation schedule but you would need a year and hundreds of thousands of dollars to see it all. The information is all contradictory, too. Some say Dublin is the only place you need to go, while others suggest you should skip Dublin and see the real Ireland. The truth is that these lists and their authors don't know you. Everyone has different travel wants and needs and, as destination experts, we can whittle that down to give you the best experience possible based around what works for your budget, interests, and time.
Relationships! Relationships! Relationships!
Travel advisors usually work for a company or have a network of other agents we are frequently in contact with. For us, travel is not just a 9-5 job. Any news story shared at the office is usually followed by, "Well how does that affect us?" We follow travel accounts on our Instagram feed, and during our down time we are either researching their own trips or taking them. We travel for work and talk with people who work in travel all day every day. We go to conferences and on familiarization trips where we get to meet suppliers and cultivate relationships. It's not just the relationships with suppliers that is important but the relationship with the client. We become friends and genuinely care about the travel planning process, not just as a business transaction. More on that later.
Know what's happening
As mentioned above, any good travel advisor eats, sleeps and breathes travel. They need to keep in the loop for their clients and they know what is happening on the ground in all of their destinations. Where am I currently allowed to travel? Will I need to be tested at the airport? I have a flight booked for later in the year but what happens if I cancel now? Chances are we know the answer and have dealt with it. If we haven't, we know someone who does know and has had experience. In the immediate future, there will be a lot of moving parts as countries re-open and change their access, airlines reschedule flights and open new routes, and conditions within different destinations change over time. Will my coach tour be at full capacity? Do we have to wear a mask going out to eat? Where is the safest place to travel with regard to health and safety? We know.
Out of hours support
Problems, unfortunately, can and do arise while you are traveling. Flights can get delayed and cause missed connections or be cancelled entirely. I remember we were in Edinburgh waiting for our flight to board and were told it was cancelled. Everyone (including ourselves) immediately ran for the booking desk to get the next flight out. When we got to the line, I called a colleague and within minutes, she had us rebooked on a flight the following morning and had a hotel secured close to the airport. This was all done before the first person in line had even spoken to anyone. If you booked yourself online, you would be stuck in line with everyone else. There is no one to call except for the airline whose line you are currently standing in. As it turned out, the flight was re-instated (long story) and we cancelled the other flight and hotel without penalty. This is just one example of the kind of thing that can go wrong with your vacation and one of the ways that a travel agent can help save it.
The vast majority of our clients come back raving about their trip. When we ask them about their favorite part of the trip, it is almost never a place or a thing. It is the people. It's the B&B owner who went to meet them as they couldn't find their rural accommodation. It's their chauffeur driver who changed their itinerary so they could visit an ancestral townland and introduce them to a possible distant cousin. It's the tour guide who brought an old pile of rocks to life with their knowledge and dry humor. Human connection is vital on the trip itself so it stands to reason you would want one throughout the planning process. It's also nice to have someone who is genuinely delighted to hear about your trip after, unlike your friends who are sick of you bringing it up at every party and family gathering (remember those?). Not only do we care if things are going well, but it is equally important we know if things are not working out so we can work to fix it. Your travel advisor is your one-stop-shop for that.
It's a lot of fun reading lists of the best places to visit in your desired destination and scrolling hotels feeds on Instagram but what about when you actually have to go and book all of this? Are the hotels refundable? Do you need to pay a deposit? Have you left enough time to get from A to B? Do you need to book certain activities in advance? All of this can get very stressful, but what about adding in any Covid-19-related restrictions? The beauty about booking with a travel advisor is that you can be as involved as you like in the planning process but you will always have someone to hold your hand along the way. Some people come to us knowing everything they want to see and just need help with the logistics, while others just saw some pictures of the Scottish Highlands and like whisky and don't have any more planning input. We can jump in at whatever level you are at.
How we have helped our clients during Covid-19?
The Covid-19 crisis has been a difficult one for all travel professionals and travelers alike. It started with the immediate uncertainty for those traveling in March about whether they would be able to get home or whether their trip would need to be canceled last minute. It has continued as the landscape has changed many times at home and abroad with lock-downs and re-openings. Imagine trying to plan your dream wedding and perfect honeymoon during a pandemic! This is what Kelsey and Adam have been doing but they're delighted they're not doing it alone.
"We're so happy we decided to let Crystal Travel & Tours help us plan our honeymoon. Normally we book vacations on our own, but Josephine was so helpful and had some great insights and suggestions about the area we really wouldn't have known on our own. Now with the impact of COVID, she has been especially helpful in rescheduling our trip for next year. It's such a relief we don't have to reschedule everything ourselves in the middle of still trying to plan our wedding. Thank you!"
We love receiving hand-written notes even more than we like sending them so we were delighted to get one from Barbara and Mike who were also forced to change their plans. The note reads:
Thank you for all your assistance with our Ireland/Scotland trip that was scheduled for this month. Even though our trip was canceled due to COVID 19, your expertise was invaluable. We look forward to planning our trip in the future - hopefully June 2021."
Since opening our doors in 1985, we have been through it all ("global pandemic that almost completely shuts down travel globally for months" was actually the last square on the bingo card!) and with over 300 years of travel experience in the office alone, we think we're the safest pair of hands to help you #whenwetravelagain.