Tom Lewis is a travel agent with Alliance Travel Partners, a Virtuoso affiliate (which means they are a part of a luxury travel agent consortium). While the majority of Lewis’ clients want high-end travel, he can book anything.Lewis told me about a study that found that only a very small percent of people under the age of 35 use travel agents. He said the industry is baffled as to why younger people are not using them and most travel agents don’t know how to reach us.I called Tom this week to learn why 20somethings (and even 30somethings) should think twice before booking their next trip online. Read the interview below, and be sure to follow Tom on Twitter at @tomtravel2.Emily Gerson: As a travel agent, do you work with 20somethings? Why would they want to use a travel agent?Tom Lewis: We are high-end travel agents, but surprisingly, I have quite a few clients who are in their 20s. Its been growing by word of mouth within that group. I’m 54, I have two daughters – one is 27 and one is 25. The 27-year-old’s husband works for Wells Fargo and most of his friends are business majors, lawyers, and other young professionals. Once I got them hooked on my services, they started referring me to their friends. People in their 20s are a generation that trusts their friends. That’s where this industry has done a poor job – getting its foot in the door. Once people use me, they get their friends to call me. It’s more personal.Certainly if they’re just booking a flight from Phoenix to L.A., they don’t call me – it’s not cost-effective. The advantage I can give them is that I don’t just book them a room in a rate category – you can do that on the Internet. If a young client calls me and they booked a room at Shutters in Santa Monica, I contact the management and let them know they’re coming. They have a room in a certain category, but there’s a good chance they’ll get a room upgrade. There’s also a good chance they’ll get an amenity when they get to the room – maybe a bottle of Champaign, wine, or a fruit plate. With Virtuoso, if I’m booking a very high-end hotel, a lot of those things are guaranteed. And it’s the exact same price as you can book on travel websites.Another advantage that I’d emphasize is that booking your own travel costs you time. The average person visits 27 websites before they book in order to gather information and compare prices. If you call or email me, within 15 minutes I can find the same information. I can give you price and itinerary in two phone calls. It’s so much easier.EG: What are some of the most common misconceptions you see amongst 20somethings in regards to travel agents?TL: The main one is that it’s too expensive. There are rare occasions when there are Internet specials we cant match, but about 95% of time, that cheap rate you see on Internet is the same one I’m seeing on my computer. And often, a travel agent can get you a better deal than what you’re seeing online. We can actually save them money. You retain the same price but are getting a better room and things added to it – it’s a better deal. The perception is that it’s too expensive, but the reality is that its often more expensive to use Internet. The reason I believe that most people your age assume they should book on Internet is they assume it’s always cheaper.The other misconception is that it’s not cool. The cool thing is to go online and book your own travel. Do you think Ashton Kutcher books his own travel? Do you think Blake Lively books her own travel? No. The people who 20somethings aspire to be – they all use travel agents.EG: I’ve read several articles recently that said travel agents were making a comeback. Do you think this is true?TL: The tide has definitely turned so that we’re starting to win back market share. There are a number of reasons for that. I’d encourage you to do a Twitter search for the names of large travel websites and sucks or #fail. You will see that there are a lot of people are not happy with the service they get from these companies. A recently survey said only 27% of people who book all travel on the Internet are satisfied or very satisfied with the process.Nobody has done survey like that on travel agents, but once we have gotten a customer into our office and booked a trip for them and they’ve returned, about 95% of them call us back. There’s a reason for that. We’re personable, it’s personal, we do whatever we can to make sure that the client is satisfied and has a great trip. With the Internet, you’re on your own. If something goes wrong, their customer service is very poor. With us, if you get to hotel and it doesn’t meet your expectations, we want you to call us. We may not be able to fix it, but chances are if we get on the phone with the management, we may be able to get you better room. However, there are some travel agents who are less professional and less full-service, who are basically taking orders, so you can’t really say that all travel agents do the same thing.EG: If I was using a travel agent for the first time, how do I know what to look for?TL: Ask them if they provide service after the sale, so in other words, if you show up at the hotel and they show you to your room and it’s not what you believed you are getting, will they intervene with the hotel and try to get you a better room?I would also ask if the travel agent is networking. We spend a tremendous amount of time and energy meeting with hotels, hotel sales reps and managers, so when our clients go to that hotel we have established a relationship with that person. Here’s an analogy; a very well-networked travel agent doesn’t know the bouncer at the exclusive club you want to go into, but they know the person who made the list. We can get you on the list, so when you show up you don’t have to say, “This room isn’t what I wanted” – you will get there and the room is the way you wanted, and will probably be better than you expected. We contact the people and let them know we have clients coming. Often we’ll have physically stayed at hotel or done a site inspection. I can ask for room in certain part of resort because I know it will suit my client better.Credentials and certifications are not a bad thing to look for because it shows they’ve taken the time to get trained, but not it’s necessary. To me it’s more a matter of asking the agent, “What do you do to educate yourself? What type of training do you do? Do you go to industry events?” I take training from cruise lines, tour companies, hotel chains, and so on.EG: What types of travels do you book for your younger clients?TL: Most of my young clients do trips like urban hotel stays in California – it’s usually pretty straightforward. Many of them could have booked themselves, but I got them extras like room upgrades, free extras, bottle of wine upon showing up – things they wouldn’t have online. I booked a trip to Vancouver and Victoria for one couple and I outlined some of the activities they could do. I have also done Hawaii and Mexico resort stays, though I plan to book more complex stays eventually. I’ve found that young professionals don’t have much vacation time – most of the people I work with are looking more to decompress than to go and see everything.
It’s not everyday that you go on a vacation. Vacations are meant to offer you great memories that last a lifetime and no one wants their vacation to have even a single bad moment. How does one ensure that your dream holiday remain exactly that- dream-like? Whom can you trust to help you plan a perfect vacation that you can’t forget in a jiffy? Who has the expertise to book cheap flights and accommodations for you and avail the best deals and packages on offer? Without any doubts, it’s your travel consultant! A good travel consultant is always detail-oriented, specializes in specific destinations, has first hand experience and knowledge of the places and possesses a deep-seated passion for travel.Travel consultants are the best source to have custom-made travel itineraries that are planned to perfection. Most travel consultants don’t just book cheap flights for you, they also take care of your accommodation needs, transportation arrangements, restaurant suggestions and reservations, formulate a daily step-by-step itinerary and purchase entry tickets and passes in advance where required. Apart from these, travel consultants also make sure that you don’t miss out on any of the important attractions, sights and hot-spots, and makes arrangements for all your excursions and tours along with private guides. Most travel consultants work by first gathering all your expectations, needs and requirements.After the initial meeting, a dummy itinerary is drafted which is subject to change according to wishes and fancy of the traveler. Once the expected itinerary is complete, they go ahead with the cheap flight and accommodation bookings. While they strive hard to bring your dream travel plans to reality, you will be continuously in the know of all the updates. A travel packet will be made available to you before departure by the travel consultant. This might include your detailed itinerary, contact information and reservations for hotels, taxis et al, all your museum or transportation tickets that have been bought in advance, custom maps created just for you and a guidebook with helpful travel tips, language travel phrases, cultural info and insider’s secrets to having a blast in the destination of your choice.The duty of a travel consultant does not just end here! He is available to you at all times during the tenure of your vacation, in case you need a hotel change or a quick restaurant recommendation. Travel consultants are your safest bet in case you want cheap flights and accommodation, a perfect travel itinerary and a unique travel experience that is based on your own budget, goals and travel style!
The foreign and commonwealth office draws up an extensive list of countries that should not be travelled to quite regularly and it is from that our, and other global travel insurance providers’, underwriters decide which countries travel insurance should be provided for. We look at the government travel advice and decide from that whether or not we can provide insurance to travellers.Although global travel insurance does, by its nature, cover the majority of the world, the current climate ensures that there are some places where the likelihood of incident means that UK travel insurance providers are unable to offer protection. Thankfully, the list is clear of the majority of popular holiday destinations, and you’re unlikely to have your big holiday plans affected. The most likely group to have their travel plans altered by the foreign office’s travel advice are business travellers.The foreign office’s travel advice is not to travel to the following countries, even if it means losing business – the risk from the warzones listed below is just too great to make the reward worth the danger:Here’s our top 10 countries to avoid travelling to, and the reasons for the high risk factor! The risk is far from conclusive (the foreign office’s travel advice lists many more countries), but to me, these are the ones that all travellers should avoid like the plague:10) LiberiaEconomic hardship in Liberia is currently making outbreaks of violence common, and foreigners (especially westerners) are at risk targets due to their affluence. This extra likelihood of incident ensures that no UK travel insurance provider would risk offering you cover if you choose to visit Liberia9) Nepal Occasional acts of terrorism and political violence in urban areas make Nepal off-limits for those who want to get travel insurance. In September this year, three nearly simultaneous bombs went off in the capital of Kathmandu, killing 3 and injuring many innocent bystanders.8)HaitiHaiti is considered off limits to many travellers on account of the high risk of kidnappings and civil unrest that is prominent. At the time of writing, there have been 12 kidnappings of American travellers in 2007 – mostly criminal in nature. In the past, these kidnappings have ended in physical and sexual assaults and shootings. The potential for spontaneous protests and demonstrations has also been known to result in unexpected violence, day or night. It’s no surprise that the government’s travel advice is not to travel here!7)YemenDue to the high levels of terrorist activity in Yemen, westerners are advised to steer clear of Yemen. If this is not possible, then all travellers are encouraged to stay vigilant and to keep a low profile to avoid attacks or kidnapping. The situation is so grave that the US Embassy often restricts American citizens from certain hotels, restaurants and shopping areas.6)IsraelThe Gaza Strip and West Bank has seen immense violence in recent months between Israeli and Palestinian factions, and shootings, kidnappings and violence demonstrations have occurred in each. The region’s continued instability makes travel to Israel widely recommended against – the risk of abduction or worse makes travel insurance impossible to obtain.5)Democratic Republic of CongoThe democratic republic of Congo remains one of the most dangerous places to travel in Africa, where violence, neglect and corruption has left the country distinctly damaged. Fighting erupted in the streets of Kinshasa in March this year, and the situation remains volatile despite the immediate threat of violence calming down. Travel outside of Kinshasa is difficult and dangerous with security, especially in the north and easy, being unstable. Any traveller brave enough to travel to the Congo should be extremely cautious, avoid the North Kivu district which is the backdrop to armed conflict between government troops and army rebels, avoid crowds and keep a close eye on local media.4)Burma (Myanmar)While the human rights situation makes Myanmar an ethically uneasy place to visit, currently there is a lot of personal risk involved as well. Throughout September, the anti-government protests sparked a violent crackdown from the authorities and made international headlines. Although the dusk-til-dawn curfew imposed in some of the towns has been lifted, it still remains an uncertain time to visit the country and you’re unlikely to find any global travel insurance company who will insure you.3)ColombiaColombia remains one of the most dangerous places to travel in the world thanks to the crime the country suffers from. The illicit drug trade in urban areas such as Cali and Buenaventura means that there is often a high risk of violence, while the more rural areas expose visitors to the country at risk from narcoterrorist groups who will often kidnap civilians to use for ransom or to gain media attention. Naturally UK travel insurance companies are loathe to insure travellers who choose to ignore these warning and travel to Colombia anyway.2)AfghanistanWith the war on terror in Afghanistan still fresh in the mind, it’s no surprise that the country remains a big no-go area. Western tourists are obvious kidnap and assassination targets, as many of the disbanded Taliban and Al-Qa’ida forces remain at large and hostile to the new regieme. Additionally, the country remains unsafe due to tribal groups, explosive devices, landmines, military operations and acts of terrorism. Unsurprisingly, the government’s travel advice is to avoid travelling here at all costs!1)IraqGiven the high profile nature of western kidnappings by various insurgent groups, and the regular acts of terrorism and hostility to Western troops, it is no surprise that no travel insurance companies will insure travellers to the troubled country. The instability is caused by various groups – Ba’ath regime remnants, transnational terrorists and criminal elements have been known to attack convoys en-route to venues, hotels, restaurants, checkpoints and police stations.While holidaymakers are unlikely to be affected by these less touristy locations, their riskiness means that business travellers will have to forgo their travel insurance if they are unable to cancel their trips.