In 1996, Microsoft created Expedia, one of the world’s first online travel agencies. Suddenly, people who used the World Wide Web for email and chat rooms could also use it to make airline, car and hotel reservations.
It almost looks quaint now. At the time, however, it was a revelation.
Travel agents were warned: like shoemakers, blacksmiths, and lamp-lighters, they were on the verge of becoming obsolete.
But travel agents – or travel counselors, as they call themselves – have not gone away. Instead, they have adapted.
âOne of the things I hear all the time is, ‘Oh, I didn’t know travel counselors were around yet,’ says Laurie Marschall, owner of LakÃ¡ma Luxury Travel in Phoenix. “There aren’t that many travel agencies with storefronts per se – most of us work remotely – but we’re still here.”
That’s a good thing, as the demand for travel advisers has skyrocketed in the wake of COVID-19, according to the American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA). Before the pandemic, only a quarter of travelers (27%) always or often used a travel counselor, according to ASTA. After the pandemic, 44% say they are more likely to use one.
ASTA President and CEO Zane Kerby points to Americans’ growing appetite for travel – there are over 143 million US passports in circulation today compared to just 7.3 million in 1989 – but also the difficulties linked to the pandemic with travel planning.
âConsumers have awakened to a very challenging travel ecosystem, so it pays to have a really good travel professional on your side who understands all the new and ever-changing restrictions,â says Kerby, who says he does. There’s at least one more reason travel counselors are making a comeback: The Travel Channel and social media have made travelers seek out more elaborate, more active, and more exotic – and, therefore, more complicated to travel. plan. âFor fairly straightforward travel and trips to places you know well, (online travel agencies like Expedia) are a great resource. But for other trips, the trip can be a very complex network of suppliers and schedules. … Travel professionals can help you navigate all of this.
If you have never worked with a travel counselor, there are a few things you should know before contacting us:
What theyre doing
These professionals are savvy travel planners, according to Stacey Gross, Atlanta-based travel consultant, Favorite Place Travel. She says most engagements start with a consultation where your advisor will learn as much as possible about who you are, where you want to go, what you want to do, and how you like to travel.
For example, do you like to explore or be expected? Do you prefer physical activities like hiking and biking, or cultural activities like dining and theater?
âEvery vacation is the result of time and money put aside for a purpose. A travel counselorâ¦ will help you plan a trip that meets those needs and wants, âsays Gross.
Travel professionals will organize potential hotels and activities for you to choose from based on your time and budget, plan a detailed itinerary, and make reservations on your behalf. They will often get special rates or upgrades that you usually couldn’t get on your own.
âThis is all before the journey even begins,â continues Gross. “During the trip, a trusted travel advisor will be available or will have provided their traveler with a destination contact who can assist them if needed.”
What they charge
While initial consultations are usually free, Marschall and Gross say travel counselors often charge a planning fee, which they must disclose in advance. They also receive commissions from hotels, tour operators, and other travel providers, but shouldn’t let potential commissions influence your itinerary.
“Our members have agreed to a code of ethics, which means they put the interests of their clients before their own,” says Kerby, who says ASTA has a consumer department that arbitrates in disputes. with travel counselors who violate its code of ethics.
How to find one
You can search for a travel professional based on your destination and other criteria on the TravelSense.org website operated by ASTA, or through a consortium of independent advisers such as Signature Travel Network, Virtuoso, or Ensemble Travel Group.
Gross says the best approach, however, is to ask family and friends for recommendations and be clear about your expectations with your travel advisor.
âAsk questions,â she advises. âBe thorough about what you want in this working relationship. And communicate that you are looking for a long-term travel partner, not just someone who can book that hotel room for that trip. You want toâ¦ share your bucket list and make it happen together. “
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Hire a Travel Counselor to Plan Your Dream Vacation