I get it: you may have never worked with a professional travel advisor and are curious about how the process works, or you may be nervous about reaching out. You are not alone! I would say that most of my clients had never worked with a travel advisor before coming to me. In fact, probably the most common phrase I hear during an initial call is, “I’ve never worked with a travel agent, I usually plan my own travel,” swiftly followed by, “I don’t really know how a travel agent works.”
The internet and travel supplier call centers have made DIY travel very commonplace, but if you are reading this article, chances are that you already have an inkling that there’s a better way to travel. Plus, can we all agree that planning travel on the internet is ridiculously time consuming and just plain overwhelming? Even if it were simple, how do you know that the booking site or call center you are using, whether it’s an online travel agency (OTA) like Expedia or supplier-direct like a cruise line, is a good way to book?
Put simply, a professional travel advisor should give you three things that you may not receive by booking direct: 1) a curated travel experience, 2) value, 3) service. If you want a truly amazing, personalized travel experience, top quality value for your investment, and dedicated, personalized service, you’ll want to seek out the best.
So let’s get down to brass tacks. What are the dos and don’ts of working with a professional travel advisor, especially if you’ve never worked with one before? Let’s break it down:
DO ask about industry affiliations and accreditations.
I’ll be blunt: the company you keep matters in this business. Your travel advisor’s industry affiliations should demonstrate their ethics, expertise, support, and connections. Membership in the American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA), a recognized consortium like Virtuoso, and accreditation by The Travel Institute are signs of an advisor's professionalism and ultimately benefit you, the traveler. Speaking as a solo travel entrepreneur, you should know that I actually never work alone: it is always a team effort, and there are back ups to back ups, 24/7 emergency contacts, and a large support framework always in the background and at the ready.
It is also a fair question to ask whether the advisor you are considering is licensed and insured. Of course, we check all of the above boxes here at Bluetail.
DO check out reviews and testimonials.
See what other travelers’ experiences have been with the advisor you are considering. This is easy to do with just a bit of light online research.
DO schedule a free discovery or consultation call.
Scheduling an initial call with your prospective travel advisor is an excellent first step. It is an opportunity to see if you are a good fit, both for the type of travel you are envisioning and your personalities. Come prepared with a general idea about the kind of vacation you are looking for and be ready to answer some questions about your likes, dislikes, travel goals, and travel style.
A good advisor wants to get to know you to tailor your experience, and also connect with you on a personal level. This should be an enjoyable, get-to-know-each-other conversation. At the end of that first call, so many of my clients tell me that the stress they were feeling about their vacation planning has just melted away. Sometimes, you may find that the travel advisor is not able to take on new clients or does not specialize in the type of travel you are looking for. That’s OK, too: they may still give you some great tips or a referral to a trusted colleague.
DO give a budget.
If you’re not sure what your precise budget for a particular trip should be, that’s OK, just say so. On the other hand, if you have a ballpark budget, share that with your advisor early on.
DO ask how the process works.
As part of my initial complimentary call with a prospective client, I always talk about my process, planning fee, and timelines. Your professional travel advisor should be able to clearly articulate the steps of their travel planning and booking process so you know what to expect and when to expect it. The great thing about having a smooth, established process is that the joyful anticipation of travel starts early, along with the peace of mind.
OK, now on to the don’ts…
DON’T wait until the last minute.
Early travel planning equates to better availability of top properties, choice flights, and desirable cruise itineraries, with prices generally more advantageous. It is also less stressful to begin travel planning when the date is not looming right around the corner. My best advice is always to reach out to me as early as possible. Don't worry, I'll tell you if you are too early!
DON’T balk at a planning fee, but feel free to ask about the benefits.
Many professional travel advisors, myself included, charge an upfront planning fee for their service. Much like a fee-for-service financial advisor, a fee-for-service travel advisor should tell you those fees upfront and also explain the value, service, and benefits to you as an informed client.
Here is my personal ethos:
I treat my clients’ travel as a precious investment of their time, life experience, and money. As my clients’ unbiased, dedicated travel advisor, I work for them, and not for the airlines, cruise lines, or other travel suppliers. I carefully select my travel supplier partners for my clients’ travels based on the quality of their offerings, service levels, and overall value, not on commissions. I am my clients’ advocate first and foremost, and I take that responsibility seriously. I provide exceptional, caring service before, during, and after travel.
DON’T focus on “deals.”
When planning travel, it is important to distinguish between “deals” (I always put that term in quotation marks) and value. The traveling public is subjected to so many creative travel marketing campaigns and ever-changing confusing promotions that it can be difficult to discern true value. Let's cut through all that clutter. I know the inclusions or, conversely, additional charges that can add up to the total cost of your travel, and I also know how to recognize good value. Find a travel advisor whom you trust, and who in turn respects your travel investment and understands the travel experience you are seeking.
DON’T be afraid to ask questions.
Your professional travel advisor is here to...wait for it...advise on travel. You should feel comfortable asking questions about the travel itself (What is the dress code for dinner? Is this typically a good season to travel to Italy? Does the ship have distilled water for my CPAP machine?), as well as about the planning or booking process. I’ll be honest, I don’t have the answer to every question, but I do know whom to reach out to when I don't (this again goes back to the importance of industry affiliations and relationships).
DON’T be nervous about scheduling that first call.
As a general rule, travel advisors don’t bite, so don’t be nervous about scheduling your first call. When you schedule a complimentary travel consultation call with me, it is a chance to have a low-stress, friendly, no obligation conversation about one of the best subjects around: travel. My initial free consultation call usually lasts about fifteen minutes (sometimes we talk a little longer), and is scheduled a couple days in advance through my online appointment scheduler. I break up the conversation into three parts: 1) we talk about you and your travel style, 2) we talk about the travel you have in mind, and 3) we talk about my service, process, and planning package options. Of course, if you have any other questions about your travel or my service, feel free to ask away. I promise it is an easy conversation with no pressure whatsoever.
Whether you are feeling overwhelmed by all the research and logistics of travel planning, or are just ready to experience the peace of mind and elevated service that comes with travel done right, I invite you to click this link to schedule your free consultation. I am here to be of service to deliver an amazing travel experience, start to finish. Let’s get you out into this beautiful world of ours.
Photo credits: Christina's headshot by Liza Wolfe Photography, breathe photo by Robin Benzrihem on Unsplash, calendar photo by Maddi Bazzocco on Unsplash, used by permission.