The Travel Adviser: Vote early, vote often

Every member of this Knesset and every single legislator have utilized one professional in their professional and personal careers: the travel agent.

Ballots are printed ahead of elections 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Baz Ratner)
Ballots are printed ahead of elections 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Baz Ratner)
Naftali Bennett uses one. The prime minister and his wife, before taking office, couldn’t fathom not using one. Shaul Mofaz, Tzipi Livni and Zehava Gal-On exclusively use one. Dasvidanya, but even Avigdor Liberman communicates with his in Russian. Election Day is upon us, replete with a legally mandated vacation day legislated by the Knesset.
One fact that has escaped the minutia of the media is that every one of the 120 members of this Knesset and every single legislator since the creation of the State of Israel have utilized one professional in both their professional and personal careers: the travel agent.
Esteemed economist Pinchas Landau, in this very newspaper, takes umbridge with this factoid and declares, “Sometimes you can actually see the global mega-trends that you read about taking shape in front of you at the most micro level possible.”
In the past, he graciously admits, his travel agency, being both efficient and knowledgeable, was able to match the online offer or beat it, either in price or in other areas. Sadly, he informs his readers; his recent request left his travel agent comprehensively defeated. Perhaps if he had found this exercise repeated several times, I might entertain his stark conclusion that the search engines are so sophisticated that no travel agent can compete.
I’m sorry to inform you Mr. Landau, but the death of my fellow travel consultants has been greatly exaggerated! What is the role of the travel consultant and how has it changed? Travel consultants work hard on behalf of the consumer. Let that resonate again.
While airlines, hotels and rental car suppliers ply us with their products, affirming that they offer the best product, the travel agent’s only client is the consumer. Yes, the vast majority of the travel providers pay commission to the travel consultants, but their role is to make a trip – whether for work or pleasure – a stress-free and memorable experience.
Blessed with search engines unmatched by the Kayaks or Travelocitys, their knowledge, accumulated by years of experience, is unparalleled. It’s trite to say that “without a travel agent, you’re on your own,” but this does exemplify their importance and the way professional travel consultants view their role in today’s changing market.
The job of a travel consultant has grown and adapted to reflect the changes within the travel industry and the difference in the way people think about travel. We realize that consumers today have done their homework and are more knowledgeable about what they want than ever before.
Your travel consultant:
• Distills product information to provide his clients with the most competitive options.
• Stays abreast of the most current and timely promotions.
• Clarifies the fine print, such as cancellation penalties and restrictions.
• Makes recommendations on travel-related options.
• Simplifies the research and subsequent transaction.
• Enhances the trip with value-added benefits and amenities.
• Uses his clout to obtain the best possible arrangements in seemingly impossible situations. (Do you remember Hurricane Sandy?) • Gets problems resolved.
WE DON’T live in a bubble. The Internet has transformed the travel industry. It helps educate the consumer by providing vast amounts of information about destinations and different travel options.
Consumers and travel consultants alike have benefited from the Internet, which makes the possibility of travel to exotic places more realistic. Consumers can see in full color, and in some cases in real time, the place they would like to visit. As Landau wrote, it gives travelers the ability to do comparative shopping for attractive deals or packages.
While the Internet is a powerful tool, a person has to understand where to look and what questions to ask; otherwise, hours will be wasted surfing the Web and ultimately results will be unsatisfactory.
This is where a travel consultant can make a world of difference. Keep in mind that travel consultants take courses, participate in seminars and become destination specialists in order to ensure they make each client’s travel experience as personalized, convenient and memorable as possible. The Internet can be a valuable resource, but it cannot replace the expertise and guidance of a travel consultant.
Most vital: during travel crises, the Internet can’t replace a human being who will persist to help a client get restitution.
There are some things technology cannot replicate, and the personal touch is one of them. At a time when travelers are stressed out with hectic schedules, the travel consultant has all of the information at his or her fingertips.
The most dramatic difference between reserving an air ticket with a travel consultant versus the Internet is the obvious one.
When you book a ticket online, be it Easy Jet or Delta, you pay for the ticket at the time of the reservation.
With a travel consultant, you you may have 24 hours, a week or several months after you make the reservation to place your purchase. The price may change in either direction, but you are not forced to hand over your credit card details.
Can you really envision a businessperson closing her travel schedule weeks in advance to the whims of an Internet site? How many readers have already purchased their tickets for their summer trip? People are fickle; situations change; an elderly parent can be involved; that vital business deal is not yet set.
I constantly advise travel professionals that if they cannot add value to their client’s trip, they should not be in this business.
If you need a one-way ticket to London next week, I’ll be the first to tell you to go online to Easy Jet’s site and make the purchase.
I’ll advise you also to purchase traveler’s insurance to protect you if you’re too ill to fly, but in all honesty, there’s no need for a travel consultant to assist you. But if you’re planning a multi-city trip to the US, switching planes and airlines in Europe, as Landau alluded to, then it’s almost folly not to turn to your travel agency.
Need I point out that airlines rarely cooperate with each other, even in these days of vaunted airline alliances? The El Al plane to London is late, resulting in missing the connection on American Airlines to New York.
More often than not, American blames El Al, El Al claims that American Airlines must take responsibility. All the while, you, the challenged passenger, must navigate between the whims and good wishes of the underpaid, overworked airline employee who shunts you off from one counter to the next.
When weather affects your plans and the line is moving at a snail’s pace while you attempt to reach the airline counter, wouldn’t you rather be in the hands of your travel consultant? Every travel agency is different and, accordingly, some are better suited to a given consumer than others. Ask around: Tap the resources of friends, neighbors and relatives who use a travel consultant they trust. Visit or call several agencies to find the one that best suits your needs.
Consider everything, from the appearance of their office to the agent’s willingness to listen to and answer questions. The best agents want to establish a long-term relationship with a client, not just make one sale. Make sure the agency has a 24-hour line, manned by travel professionals – not a phone operator.
Landau begs to differ: “The result is that human travel agents have been rendered expensive and inefficient, so that the process of technological change has reached past the point where humans are no longer necessary. Physical travel agencies employing human agents are on the way to extinction.”
Like the nonsense verse poem “Jabberwocky,” written by Lewis Carroll in Through the Looking-Glass, his whimsical conclusion leaves me chortling.
Unlike those characters, travel consultants are not on the road to extinction. In times of emergency, be it volcanic ash or a hurricane, their personal touch will provide recourse. While all those around you may be losing their heads, your travel agent’s calmness will see you through the storm.Mark Feldman is the CEO of Ziontours Jerusalem.