After the past year and a half, we will never again take smooth traveling for granted. When the pandemic struck, it stopped travel in its tracks. Flights were canceled. People were stranded. Money was lost. But those who fared the best had an advocate in their corner: their travel adviser.
“When borders closed last March, travel advisers sprang into action,” says Matthew D. Upchurch, chairman and CEO of Virtuoso, a network of some 20,000 luxury travel advisers. “They worked tirelessly to repatriate clients, cancel, and rebook plans, and secure funds and travel credits.”
John Lovell, president of Travel Leaders Group, with more than 6,000 travel agencies worldwide, agrees, “During the beginning of the pandemic, travel advisers all over the world were unsung heroes; their professionalism ensured that travelers arrived safely and that future trips were canceled with a minimum of financial loss to their clients.”
It seems that we’ve learned our lesson; working with a travel adviser is becoming increasingly popular. “In some cases, our locations are seeing more than 30 percent of their business coming from consumers who have never used their services in the past,” says Lovell. “New customer requests have more than doubled compared to last summer and are up over 100 percent compared to November 2020.”
Virtuoso has also seen a steady build of business throughout the pandemic, doubling from June to September 2020. By late January 2021, the company saw as much as a 50 percent increase over December in requests to be connected to an adviser.
It’s no wonder that working with a professional is more important and popular than ever. Things are complicated. “Rules and regulations vary by country, state, city, not to mention sectors like air, cruise, and hospitality,” says Upchurch. “And there are so many questions around quarantining, vaccine requirements, and testing. It’s too much for any one person to know and navigate on their own.”
Advisers are adept at working through the complexities, and they have networks and relationships around the world to keep them up to date with ever-changing situations. They also can often provide an insider look at a destination, with real-time information. Are the restaurants following safety guidelines? Is the hotel at capacity? What activities are available? What’s closed and what’s open?
Even during the best of times, travel advisers can provide extra value with their insider knowledge and access to upgrades, extra perks, and enriched experiences, and while they work the details, you can focus on the fun. Another benefit: the human connection.
“Even before the pandemic, we were seeing steady growth in the rise of the adviser,” Upchurch says. “In an era when everything can be bought direct, there was an understood benefit in booking with an actual human being. It takes a real, live person to deliver service before, during and after the trip.”
In today’s world, working with a travel adviser is almost a no-brainer. “In many cases, it wouldn’t cost the traveler a cent more to book that weekend getaway through an adviser,” says Erika Richter, senior communications director for the American Society of Travel Advisors. “But it could help put food on the table for a struggling business. Ninety percent of our industry is considered ‘small business’ according to SBA’s [Small Business Administration] standards, and 66 percent is female owned.”
When you’re ready to plan your next trip, consider these tips on getting the most out of your traveler/adviser relationship.
Select the right person
Organizations such as Travel Leaders, Virtuoso, and the American Society of Travel Advisors are all good places to start. Each includes a list of travel advisers filtered by geographic location, destination specialties, and interests. For example, if you’re planning a trip to Athens, you may want to seek out an adviser who specializes in that area. He or she has likely visited several times and has insider knowledge of activities, lodgings, and restaurants.
If you’re looking to book a fly-fishing trip, or a hiking adventure, or pet-friendly travel, for example, you may want to consult with an expert in those types of excursions.
You’ll want to check to see if an agent is a Certified Travel Counselor, a certification process managed by The Travel Institute, signaling that the agent has been through at least five years of full-time work in the industry.
Also, “never discount the power of a recommendation from a trusted friend or colleague,” says Lovell.
Communicate and collaborate
Do you know where you want to go? Are you a city mouse or country mouse? Are you a foodie who likes Michelin-starred restaurants or are small, local hangouts (with good food, of course!) more your thing? The more you can tell your adviser upfront about your travel preferences, the better he or she can work to accommodate them.
Start with a conversation to share your likes and dislikes. Be specific about the destinations you prefer, your past travel history, what you want to do on your vacation, the time frame you are looking at, and your overall budget.
“The more information you can share, the better the experience you’ll have,” says Lovell. “There’s nothing wrong with wanting to lay on the beach in the Caribbean, but make sure to express that to your adviser, so they don’t start researching a trip to Moscow!”
What if you don’t know where you want to go? That’s OK, too. Consider instead what you are hoping to get out of a trip. “Is it relaxation, exploration, adventure, solitude, culture? A good adviser will ask many of these questions to determine what’s best for the traveler, but it makes their job easier if there’s some forethought,” says Upchurch.
Do your homework
Once you’ve decided on a destination, do some research about the area. What experiences would interest you most? Would you love to score a table at a specific restaurant? What are the must-do things on your list? The more information you share with your adviser, the better able they’ll be to craft a personalized travel experience.
Keep an open mind
A travel professional is your advocate, dedicated to making your experience as wonderful as possible. Once you’ve shared your preferences and you’ve gotten to know each other, keep an open mind and bring a sense of adventure. You never know where they might lead.
Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org