Skift recently released our Megtrends Defining Travel in 2017. One trend, Humanity Returns to Travel, notes that, “all of the data in the world is much more powerful when placed in the hands of a well-trained, empathic person who can anticipate, be flexible, and help steward a cohesive experience.” This observation is coming to life through 2016’s increase, and 2017’s predicted increase in travelers seeking the services of travel agents/consultants.
In 2016, Skift reported that thirty percent of millennials have used a travel agent in the last 12 months. A striking 45 percent of millennials polled said they’re likely to recommend a travel agent to a friend or family member. And that’s just the beginning; across all demographics, about two-thirds of those polled said using an agent makes their trip better.
While travel agents of the past were primarily providing services to travelers who were unable to navigate the complicated systems in place for booking everything from airline tickets to cruises, today’s modern travel professionals provide a different type of service — one geared toward providing travelers with seamless, memorable experiences.
Outside of the time and cost saving benefits associated with engaging a travel consultant, there are a number of unexpected advantages that may be lesser known:
ACCESS TO ACCOMMODATIONS
Travel consultants have access to, and in-depth knowledge of, accommodations that will not only match guest expectations in terms of luxury, location, etc., but will also embody their personal ethos. For example, certain guests may want a hotel to feel like a “home away from home,” while others may want to feel a cultural connection to their destination.
“I use my extensive hotel knowledge to match clients to the perfect accommodation,” says Justin Dolan, Director of Sales at CTA Travel, a Signature Travel Network member agency in Cerritos, CA. “When clients ask, ‘where should I stay, what’s the best hotel?’ I know that each location may have 3 or 4 ‘best hotels,’ so what really makes the best hotel is which one is the perfect match for that client.”
Peter Carideo, President of CRC Travel takes a similar approach to understanding all of the possible accommodation options, “I will focus, in a city, on certain properties and really understand the property. So if a client goes on a website, for let’s say the Dorchester in London, they’re not going to know the nuances of why that hotel vs The Savoy, vs Claridge’s — so by having relationships [with the property] number one, and by actually having seen them, I’m bringing a new perspective that my client wouldn’t get from the website.”
Additionally, hotel reservations booked through Signature Travel Network’s member consultants often come with contracted amenities like a spa credit or a complimentary room upgrade. However, many consultants take this opportunity to provide travelers with an added unique experience. Leveraging their relationships with hotels and knowledge of their clients, consultants can add value by ensuring the property knows when a guest is arriving and help expedite them through the check-in process. They can also arrange a meet and greet with the hotel’s general manager and surprise them with, for example, a bottle of champagne in their room — or in the case of honeymooners, have a wedding photo waiting for them on their nightstand. It comes down to a human understanding of the guest, which is translated from the consultant to the property, and makes the guest experience unforgettable.
Navigating a new place isn’t easy, a travel consultant has the ability to not only explain transit options and procure tickets in advance, but also to arrange a private car, driver and guide throughout the trip.
“Many of the itineraries that I arrange are by private car and driver throughout,” explains Dolan, meaning the entire trip is conducted by a chauffeur driven car as well as an English speaking guide. “Through Signature Travel Network and our collection of destination specialists throughout the world, I’m able to access the highest quality of drivers and vehicles.” Through the network, Dolan is also able to match his client’s interest to their guides. “One example is a couple I work with that travels through Europe and has a specific interest in World War II history — I work with the destination specialist to make sure that the guide they will be traveling with is really an expert in World War II History,” says Dolan. Consultants can share a client profile with their in-destination specialist to match everything from age group to a specific interest.
Signature Travel Network provides consultant members with the ability to offer luxury travelers perks through their Exclusive Car and Driver Program, which comes with luxury cruises. By booking cruises through Signature Travel Network’s consultant members, travelers receive a complimentary private car and driver excursion. This is something that travelers would likely not be able to book on their own, or even through the cruise — and especially not for free.
KEEPING TRAVEL ON TRACK
Providing a seamless experience that keeps a traveler’s itinerary on track entails utilizing new technologies that modern consumers have come to expect from modern brands; however, because a travel consultant typically manages a soup to nuts travel experience, the tools they provide to clients can go far and beyond that which may be provided by a single airline or accommodation brand. Travel consultants who are members of Signature Travel Network, for example, have access to a tool, “Pocket Travel Consultant,” which is white labeled so that each individual agency can provide their clients with a tool that is branded specifically to their agency.
Powered by AXUS, this app contains all relevant itinerary information for the traveler, and sends push notifications to automatically update the traveler on next steps and let them know when there are unexpected delays. There are also emergency contacts available through the app so a traveler always has some means of recourse. “This is a travel app where we put our client’s trip on the app — they now have their travel documents, their travel details, on their phone and they can also send me messages on that,” says Monika Leuenberger, a Certified Travel Consultant and President, CEO, and Owner of Avenues of the World Travel. “So when they are traveling they get a notification and I get it as well… It’s a really cool tool that makes sure that we can be proactive.”
When a person decides to travel, it’s an investment of not only money, but also time — and the return on that investment boils down to the quality of their travel experience. Travel consultants can really assess a traveler as a person and determine what their needs are, and then execute a seamless travel experience to meet and exceed those needs.
Founded in 1956, Signature Travel Network is a cooperative of travel agencies, dedicated to providing members with the tools they need to arrange travel for consumers around the world. To learn more, please visit http://join.sigtn.com/.