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The Travel Column 2002-11-28

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We are pleased to bring you The Travel Column, written fortnightly for "The Trinidad Guardian"

CHOOSING YOUR PROFESSIONAL TRAVEL CONSULTANT

Planning any trip today - for business or pleasure - can be a time-consuming and challenging experience. Advances in communications and technology, and the resulting “information-overload” make the services of a professional travel consultant more necesary than ever. The ‘lowest fare’ or the ‘best price’ should not be the only criteria for what constitutes a good travel agent or travel consultant.

Finding a good travel consultant

So how do you find the right agent? Choosing a good travel consultant is like choosing any professional consultant - doctor, lawyer, accountant, engineer. You’re buying service and advice, not a commodity. Differences in good and bad agencies in quality of service … especially after you’ve paid for your trip and hit the road … are far greater than differences in price.

Ask your friends and family and get their advice on who they use and why. Travel choices are personal decisions that reflect individual needs and lifestyles so you may want to visit or call a few agencies to find the one that best suits you. You should consider everything from the appearance of the office to the agent’s willingness to listen and answer questions. Talk with the travel consultant. Are your concerns being addressed to your liking? Listen to the recommendations to help you make your decision. Make sure you are getting what you want and not what the agent wants to sell you.

The best professional agents are interested in establishing a long-term relationship with a client, not just making a sale at the lowest price! The professional travel consultant builds relationships with clients by learning their interests, lifestyles … and their dispositions! Your travel agent is someone you should trust to look out for your best interests. After all, the right travel agent should know all your travel preferences, your tastes and sensibilities, your physical abilities as well as your financial wherewithal.

Memberships, Associations and Affiliations

Providers of professional services – doctors, engineers, – usually belong to professional organizations and associations. In the travel business, industry associations and organizations usually provide education, training and resource materials to their members to equip them with the tools to enable them to offer you the highest quality of service.

Membership in associations – both local and international – allow travel professionals to interact with other professionals and learn from their experiences. This interaction and exchange of ideas and experiences is invaluable to a professional agent.

At the very minimum, your travel agency should be approved by the International Airline Transport Association (IATA), and be a member of the Travel Agent Association of Trinidad & Tobago (TAATT). TAATT’s members have pledged to conduct their business activities in a manner that promotes the ideal of integrity in travel and to abide by the Associations Code of Ethics to guide and advise travelers honestly and in a competent manner.

Internationally, the most recognized international travel agent association is ASTA – the American Society of Travel Agents, Inc. With over 24,000 members in 140 countries, ASTA is the largest and most influential travel trade association in the world. ASTA travel agents are known as dedicated, hard-working professionals who provide superior service to their customers. ASTA travel agents are knowledgeable professionals who uphold a strict code of ethics and who keep up to date by attending industry events that offer educational seminars and networking opportunities. In today’s business environment professional agency must have an international or global focus. Is your travel agent an ASTA agency?

Education & Training

Professional travel agents and their agencies recognize the importance of training and keeping abreast of changes in the industry globally. Agents and agency owners should have a continuous quest for knowledge and improvement. This is enhanced by attendance at seminars, workshops and conferences for the purpose of acquiring, developing and ‘fine-tuning’ their technical and related skills to provide quality service to customers.

Ask about your travel consultant’s professional background. Ask about his/her agency’s approach and commitment to training. Do agents and management attend seminars and conferences annually? What experience do they have? What training courses – for technical or product knowledge – have they attended in the last year? Does the agency arrange ‘in-house’ training for all agency employees? Does you travel consultant have any kind of certification? Professionalism, excellent service and training are synonymous.

Customer Focus

Your professional travel consultant should:

Be ‘Customer-centric’: interested in providing you with services and products designed to meet your expectations and needs with the best value possible. .
Offer Best Value: While they can't control travel prices, they can provide you with accurate information as to what choices and special promotions exist, and can speak to a particular product's quality. They are there to help you get the best value for your travel dollar.
Provide Unbiased Information & Choice: They work for you, not the airlines or any other travel supplier, and present you with a number of travel options.
Be a Customer Advocate - In the event that you have a problem with a particular element of your travel experience, they can act on your behalf to see that restitution is forthcoming.
Provide Expert Guidance & Professional Advice: They understand the intricacies of the system, and in helping you take full advantage of them.. A professional’s experience can save travelers both money and headaches.
Consultancy Fees

The use of professional service providers for many transactions, such as tax preparation, isn’t questioned. Similarly if one is going to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars, as well as a good chunk of valuable leisure or business time, it makes absolute sense to use a professional. All professionals charge fees for their services. Fees vary from one company to another, from one individual to another. The question is what service and value do you get relative to the fee that is charged.

Historically customers have not paid for the services of a travel agent. The provision of these services have been underwritten by supplier compensation to the agency. In previous travel columns reference has been made to changes in the travel industry with respect to reduced supplier compensation to agencies.

In today’s business environment, much like a doctor or lawyer, a professional travel consultant's time and opinion are valuable, so be prepared to pay a fee for their services. When you consider how much time and hassle … and money … they can save you, the service fee will be well worth the investment! The fee is your way of knowing that the consultant is working for you and that the recommendation will be unbiased.

Today professional travel agencies, with trained, professional travel consultants, should and do, charge fees for their services, which should be viewed no differently to those of other service professionals.

Catherine de Gannes-Martin, Managing Director
trvlcentre.tt@gmail.com
November 28, 2002

 

Previous Travel Columns

The Travel Column 2002-11-14
The Travel Column 2002-10-31
The Travel Column 2002-10-17
The Travel Column 2002-10-3
The Travel Column 2002-9-19
The Travel Column 2002-9-5
The Travel Column 2002-8-22
The Travel Column 2002-8-8
The Travel Column 2002-7-25
The Travel Column 2002-7-11
The Travel Column 2002-6-27

The Travel Centre Limited / American Express
16 Damian Street 
Woodbrook, Trinidad, West Indies
Phone: (868) 622-0112 or (868) 622-AMEX
Fax: (868) 622 0894
E-mail: trvlcentre.tt@gmail.com

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