Reasons to use a Travel Agent
By Velma Chen

As a seasoned travel expert and managing partner of Chen-Martin Travel, Velma Chen has been serving clients in the Santa Clara Valley for 14 years. Considering the sum of her experience, she shares ten reasons why consumers should consider using a professional travel agent.

1) Travel agents are the experts . Through an on-going process of focused familiarization trips, reading the travel trades (I read no less than 20 travel magazines a week), going to tradeshows, conferences and seminars for the latest updates, interviewing returning clients and becoming certified in specific destinations and niches, a travel agent can distill all the product information that's floating out there. Facts and data are readily available, but that's the lowest rung of the information chain. A good travel agent can provide first hand knowledge and experience to interpret this miscellaneous info in a way that is meaningful to the client.

2) Travel agents can provide comparative and competitive information . Individual car, hotel and air web sites display pricing beautifully for their product but where does this stack up in the whole scheme of things? Hotels aren't going to tell you that the property next door is going through massive renovation and loud construction throughout the day, but a good travel agent has access to this info.

3) Travel agents are always one step ahead on all the latest promotions . I typically receive 200-300 plus emails a day and have a great network of industry contacts that I network with regularly so definitely I'm "in the know". My suppliers know what my clients are buying and will do their best to keep me updated and on top of the latest promotions and trends.

4) Travel agents are the best at analyzing pricing and promotions. Cheapest is not always the best. Creative packaging and movement of some of the travel parameters will undoubtedly beat the web 90% of the time.

5) Agents are qualified to clarify the fine print. Contracts all contain penalties and restrictions when it comes to cancellations, changes, buying insurance, etc . A professional will absolutely save the consumer time and money.

6) Travel agents are a great source for recommendations such as where to eat, best places to shop, what to pack, must-see tourist attractions and so forth. Best of all, this is customized based on your past travel history and relationship with the agent. Think of your agent as your own personal concierge!

7) Travel agents provide one-stop shopping and can pull all the details into one final itinerary. The web is great for simple point-to-point destinations but doesn't work as well when combining several destinations and modes of transport involved in a multi-destination trip.

8) Travel agents provide value added benefits at no extra cost . My clients are typically treated to room upgrades and extra amenities because I'll request them ahead of time, and if there's a special occasion such as a milestone birthday or anniversary or any special needs, these will be taken care of. Also, all my clients receive either a bon voyage or welcome home gift from me that will remind them of this special trip.

9) Travel agents will follow-up to resolve any problems experienced on the trip and will work to get the consumer any price adjustment or compensation if warranted. Most travelers don't have time to write complaint letters, but with us "it's part of the territory," and we'll get the answers. Your travel agent is your best advocate in representing your financial investment of money and time.

10) Travel agents have more buying power and clout than an individual consumer booking on the web. I make careful buying decisions on behalf of my clients, and the supplier knows that if they don't deliver, I will take action. Suppliers cannot afford any negative publicity in the travel agent community and will do almost anything to avoid it at any cost.

    Bottom line, a good travel agent takes time to assess your past travel history, your current interests, traveling companions, and budget before presenting options and making recommendations. A great vacation doesn't just happen. In all likelihood, a savvy travel agent has crafted an innovative and exciting itinerary customized just for you.

    Velma Chen is a travel agent in Santa Clara. This is her first article for BAFT.

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