REACTING AND ADAPTING, TRAVEL PROFESSIONALS HAVE REPELLED PREDICTIONS OF EXTINCTION BY REINVENTING THEMSELVES AND THEIR SERVICES
BY LAURA D.C. KOLNOSKI
The rise of online booking sites combined with the determination of overconfident do it yourselfers initially threatened the livelihoods of traditional travel agents. Within the last decade, however, that trend has turned. More often referred to as “advisors,” today’s agents are passports to “insider” destination expertise and customized services the promised results are better trip planning, inspiration, and increased safety.
Our own seasoned travel writers concur. World traveler and author Nubia Duvall Wilson offered: “There is a big misconception that agents cost travelers extra money, but they can actually save money. Millennials are using them more than ever, and some cool agencies are popping up online.”
Amber Gibson, another INDUSTRY travel scribe, expanded upon those observations.
“For more complex itineraries, far flung or unfamiliar destinations, and specialized interests, it’s well worth using an expert,” she explained “…someone who has personally been to the destination, met with the suppliers, and experienced the resorts, activities, and attractions. They can nail down the logistics to make the trip run smoothly, and actually be available should any complications or changes arise.”
A 2018 “How America Travels” survey of 2,879 respondents conducted by the American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA, the leading organization representing U.S. travel advisors) found a growing consumer need for expertise and help with complex trips. Funded by the Carnival Cruise Corporation, the study included millennials, Gen Xers, and baby boomers.
Finding the best deals is the top reason consumers gave for using professional advisers. While 42% of respondents ranked expert/insider information on destinations as a main reason for using them, other reasons included a higher level of service (versus on line booking); having someone available to assist if travel disruptions occur; tips for booking unfamiliar destinations (better access to hotels, airlines, and cruises); and the holy grail scoring upgrades and/or amenities. Bottom line: data showed travel agent users were more satisfied with vacations than non-users.
“We approached this year’s study with a focus on the changing landscape for travel and the factors shaping that change,” said Zane Kerby, president and CEO of ASTA. “Americans’ interest in travel remains strong. Across all ages and demographics, those who use advisors report higher levels of satisfaction; 91 percent of travelers who use one rated the quality of their vacations with a top score.”
That said, a number of travel firms have reinvented their services in response to changing needs.
In our February, 2018 article “Rock the Boat,” for example, about the relatively new niche of fan ocean cruises, we found rebranded agencies like Sixth Man and the Cruise and Vacation Authority selling out entire vessels for excursions featuring all genres of music and luminaries of comedy, sports, dining, and the arts. Some of the most successful floated fans of Star Trek, Oprah’s O, The Oprah Magazine, and HGTV’s Property Brothers the last headlining a second cruise in 2018 due to popular demand. Destination excursions to filming sites of Harry Potter and Game of Thrones have also become popular, and tours of Hobbiton and locations featured in the Lord of the Rings films have drawn legions to New Zealand. The online travel site Passported is a family oriented agency specializing in domestic and international trips all ages can enjoy
As holiday shopping season commenced, media outlets widely reported essentially that, “millennials are choosing experiences over things,” sending baby boomer parents scrambling for something they could literally stick a bow on. Travel advisors were ready with meaningful adventures near and far, perilous or placid. A San Francisco firm, Blue board Experiences, started by two friends wallowing in white collar job ruts, began with outside the box after work adventure and activities. Its specialty is Experiential Employee Gifts that “improve engagement” through such pursuits as sky diving, surfing, culinary explorations, travel, volunteering, and fund raising. One of the founders recently told CNBC: “We’re renting scooters and touring Vietnam, rocking out at music festivals, or hiking Machu Picchu.”
According to Lonely Planet, the top travel destinations for 2019 include Nepal, Serbia, Sri Lanka, Belarus, and Belize all with cultural, logistical, and safety related aspects that a travel advisor is in a position to clarify. (Only Miami and Seattle made the list for the U.S.)
Frequently sharing her expertise on television and in magazines, Michaela Guzy is a former VP/Global Travel & Strategic Development at American Express Publishing, who founded her own firm, Oh the People You Meet, seven years ago–one that now boasts 110 global contributors. Its videos have been featured on outlets like Arianna Huffington’s Thrive Global and American Airlines. She also teaches travel storytelling classes at NYU.
Foodies, adventurers, and philanthropists seeking authentic local connections rely on the personal insights of Guzy and her contributors. Reminiscent of the late, great Anthony Bourdain, she visits exotic, often remote places like Bhutan and Rwanda, eats strange foods, and gets down with the locals. From airport and eco-tourism tips to cooking with a blowtorch, Guzy embodies modern globe trotters’ wanderlust. Journeys chronicled on her website explore adventures as diverse as a Haberdashery in Harlem and an intimate tour of Istanbul with a local. Beyond being fascinating, information gleaned there and from on board travel advisors becomes essential in planning a more meaningful, enjoyable vacation or even knowing what questions to ask beforehand.
In the case of Cuba, whose allure beckons more Americans despite ongoing restrictions (639,000 U.S. citizens traveled there last year, according to the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs), the island’s challenges strongly demonstrate the necessity for assistance from seasoned travel professionals.
“In Cuba, the rules are always changing, especially for Americans,” Guzy cautioned, adding that she gets so many queries about that nation that her company added videos about it to its site.
We caught up with the frequent flyer in December, just after she returned from Africa. She declared 2019 travel trends for families, singles, couples, and groups will emphasize “sustainability, immersive experiences, and transformational travel, regardless of age. All signs are pointing to the power of human connection. Travel unites us and bridges our differences.”
Her best advice to trekkers: “Open your eyes, minds, and hearts, no matter where you journey. Meet new people who bring your destination to life and provide a true sense of place.”
BROOKLYN AGENTS OF NOTE
RISING SUN TRAVEL AGENCY 821 Rogers Ave. / risingsuntravel.com
Founded by Elton and Bernadine Achille and in business since 1985, this company specializes in journeys to the Caribbean. It sells all scheduled airlines, cruise lines, and air & hotel packages and arranges destination wed dings, honeymoon packages, and group tours.
JOY TRAVEL USA, LLC. 580 Crown St. / 718.473.7622 / joytravel.com
A second generation family owned travel concierge with over 30 years of experience, it serves corporate clients along with “the most budget conscious fliers,” but has a true flair for those with a passion for luxury, providing, as its site explains, “as much satisfaction as possible despite the hurdles of travel,” in part by “retaining an edge over quality control and pricing by fostering close relationships with airline representatives.”
VACATIONS BY HEATHER 397 Court St. / 718.852.6373 / vacationsbyheather.com
Harnessing more than 15 years as the New York City travel expert on About.com and expert level training through Royal Caribbean‘s University of WOW (among other industry credits), Heather Cross has been to 35 countries and counting. She “secures flights, hotels, tours, trains, and transfers” and provides ample itinerary advice along the way.
HIATUS Crown Heights, Bedford Stuyvesant / 347.406.8367 hiatustravel.com
A boutique travel agency established in 2012, HIATUS is a member of Virtuoso, an elite, invitation only consortium featuring some of the world’s best travel agencies and advisors an affiliation that allows it to extend amenities such as daily breakfast, hotel credits, and complimentary upgrades.