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
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
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
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
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
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
Your professional travel consultant should:
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
November 28, 2002
Previous Travel Columns