At the end of last year, I started a new role as an independent travel agent. I had no previous experience in the travel industry but I thought sod it. How hard can it be?
Turns out there is a helluva lot to being a travel agent but I love every single second of it. As an independent agency, we sell all kinds of holidays from big long adventure holidays, twin-centre holidays, UK lodges, flights around the world, cruise, package holidays and city-breaks. The list really does go on. Of course, with all the fun stuff comes the boring laws, regulations and rules that we need to know as well as endless admin. Yet despite having to juggle a lot during the day, I now can’t imagine myself in any other industry.
It is a job where you learn about something every single day and one big perk is being able to visit and experience destinations in order to improve our product knowledge. I was very lucky to have recently visited Saint Lucia as part of a work trip and not only did I learn so much about the destination, but networking with other agents allowed me to grow my knowledge about the industry overall.
Working in travel has allowed me to understand how to industry operates, so I thought I’d be good to pass on the knowledge I have learnt to help everyone make better decisions when it comes to booking their holidays!
Online VS Travel Agent
A lot of people tend to book holidays online and I am ALL FOR THAT. While I do work as a travel agent and we rely on people coming into the store, I understand that people want to save money and not have to pay another person commission. Even now, I still book my holidays on my own and not through work.
That being said, we get a lot of people that come in the store, after seeing something online and wanting us to match the cost. Unfortunately, we will never be able to match online prices as travel agents need to get paid. Essentially, when you are booking online, you are your own travel agent and are responsible for arranging your own insurance, visas and vaccination advice, financial protection if something goes wrong with the airline or hotel as well as admin such as checking in, printing out tickets and boarding passes and knowing how much luggage you can take. When you go to a travel agent, we take care of everything and all the customer needs to do is turn up at the airport.
Travel agents also offer invaluable knowledge that, unless you are travel savvy, you may not know. We can often recommend resorts that are most suit your holiday needs or what the best way around an itinerary is. We often get people come in who are so overwhelmed with choice, they just want an expert come in and take over. So when considering booking online and not through an agent, bare all this information in mind.
Think about seasons
We often get people who have seen bargain holidays online and want us to match those prices, but the reason why those fantastic holiday offers exist is that not many people are going to that particular destination at that time of year. The reason why Saint Lucia is coming up as cheap in the summer holidays as somewhere in Spain? Because it’s hurricane season. Thailand is cheap as chips in July as it’s the start of the rainy season. If something appears to be too good to be true, it probably is.
By all means, it is possible to visit a destination during low season in order to get a bargain break, but you’ll have to be prepared that the weather is not guaranteed. To still get low prices but not be faced with torrential rain, go to destinations right at the start of the season. Europe in April/May isn’t going to be 30oc but its certainly going to be cheaper than going in July.
When it comes to holidays, a lot of people think that booking late is the best way to get the cheaper deal. Now, while that can be the case, the message that tour operators really want to get across is to book early. This way, they know that their allocations are going to get filled up. The more people book, the more the price increases as it looks like it’s desirable. The only way the price would come down is if they haven’t filled the allocation and they want a quick sale.
Tour operators will often incentivise customers to book early by having low deposits, sometimes you can secure a holiday from as low as £50. This way, you can secure a good price and pay the full balance 12-14 weeks before departure. Late deals are good if you are fully flexible and don’t mind where you go, but customers are slowly getting the message on booking holidays early and securing the best price. When it comes to last minute deals, customers are only getting what is left and not necessarily the best.
I’ll keep this brief. GET INSURANCE AS SOON AS YOU BOOK A HOLIDAY. So many people (I include myself in this category prior to becoming a travel agent) think that travel insurance only covers them for when they are abroad, but it also covers you in case you have to cancel the holiday for any unforeseen circumstance. If you break your leg a week before you go away and you don’t have any insurance in place? Well, I am afraid you’ve lost your money. Whatever you do, make sure insurance is the FIRST thing you do after booking a holiday.
Some little pieces of advice…
Independent agents are better I am biased but, if you can, go to an independent agent over the likes of TUI and Thomas Cook. They can offer you the best range of holidays available as they have access to a whole range of tour operators. Plus, they work with you closely to get the holiday you want, as booking through an independent means a lot more to them then a booking made at a big company like TUI.
Avoid peak times This goes without saying, but if you don’t need to go in half terms or summer holidays then don’t. The prices quite LITERALLY triple in school holidays.
Be specific with what you want Easier said than done, but when you are ‘flexible’ it is the HARDEST thing in the world to pick a holiday. Do you prefer to be on the beach or are you more of a pool person? When visiting a city do you want to be close to the nightlife? Do you want to go all-inclusive or is self-catering more your thing? Having too much choice can be difficult to give you the holiday that best suits your holiday style.
Stopovers on long-haul flights Travelling long haul to the far East or Austrailia? Stopovers are the best way to break up the journey PLUS you get to experience a whole new city!
If there is anything else you would like me to discuss about being a travel agent, please do drop me a comment or message, I could talk about it all day! And in case you were looking for an agent to book your next holiday, drop me an email at email@example.com. We have clients all around the country, so you don’t need to be local to me.
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