As a travel agent, I’m always asked “what is your value?” or I hear statements of “I can get the same vacation if I book myself, online”. I also often here “I don’t need insurance, I’m not going to cancel this trip”. I’ll be honest… hearing these things always frustrates me. I’m in this business to build relationships with clients and help them whenever they may need me. I get frustrated because I know that there may very well come a time when the person making these statements needs help and they won’t have me or anyone else to help them.
With the remnants of the strongest hurricane ever in the Western Hemisphere, I thought it a great time to address these questions and comments.
This weekend, according to a Los Angeles Times article, 700 flights from North America were canceled due to Hurricane Patricia. The Puerto Vallarta airport was completely shut down on Friday and some hotel guests were shuttled by bus to higher ground. If you consider an estimate of 150 travelers on each of these flights, that is over 100,000 people having to reschedule flights. That is 100,000 people who may have to stay somewhere unexpected overnight (or perhaps more than one night), in a hotel they weren’t planning on booking. What would you do if you were traveling in these circumstances?
If you booked your trip online, there won’t be much you can do. I’m pretty sure the Priceline spokesperson won’t be taking your calls for help. You can call the 1-800 number of online travel companies and wait on hold for hours. You can muddle through their computerized voice commands. You can stand in line at the airport customer service counter waiting on your turn to talk to a frazzled customer service rep who has been yelled at by customers for things he/she can’t control. Let’s face it, none of these options are very pleasing.
Wouldn’t it be nicer to have a real person to call? Someone who will answer the phone, give you information about what is happening in and around your area, give you suggestions on what you can do and be your advocate to assist you in making alternative plans. This is what your travel agent can do. After talking to your travel agent, you can leave the crowds (who are getting angrier as the hours go by) find a seat, have some coffee, read a book or get one of those airport chair massages. While you are taking it easy, your travel agent is at the office working on your behalf to make the best out of a bad situation.
What about the cost of the lost vacation days? The cost of added hotel rooms and other changes to your itinerary? While airlines are actually pretty good about waiving their change fees in these situations, there is nothing that will reimburse you for the cost of a trip interrupted …. except for travel insurance. Plus, travel insurance companies have 24/7 travel assistance numbers to call when you need assistance. This is an added protection for you in case your travel agent, who is after all a real person, can’t be reached.
I can’t promise that you will never be inconvenienced when you travel. When catastrophic events happen, inconvenience is just a part of it. However, I can promise that a travel agent will be your friend, advocate and assistant in a rough patch. Don’t you owe it to yourself and your family to have a travel agent on your side?