We’ve all met him, because it’s almost invariably a him. He’s the guy who tells you he got the same holiday as you at a fraction of the cost because he did it all himself on the internet – no payments to agents or other middlemen, and he’s ploughing the savings he made into food and drink for him and his family. Not exactly a spirit lifter as you begin your hard-earned break in the sun.
But, while it may be possible to make some savings on a holiday by taking the DIY option, the downsides can end up making it a very much more expensive option in the end.
According to Click&Go chief executive and Irish Travel Agents Association president Paul Hackett, Irish people have grown accustomed to making their own travel arrangements for one key reason. “DIY travel booking is more popular in Ireland than any other country,” he notes. “This is because the two main airlines closed their reservations departments. They have brilliant websites and Irish people have got used to using them.”
That’s fine if all you’re booking is a flight. A holiday is a different proposition, however.
Level of service
“The first reason to use a travel agent is for their advice and level of service,” Hackett explains pointing to the poor weather event two weeks before Christmas when quite a number of flights out of Irish airports were cancelled.
“People who booked with an agent were entitled to an automatic refund if the holiday couldn’t be delivered. If they had taken the DIY option they had no real protection because their flights and accommodation had been booked separately. If you are at the airport and your flight is cancelled it will probably be too late to cancel accommodation and get a refund. When they are booked with a travel agent, they are fully protected under the package travel directive. There is no protection under the law when you do it yourself. Customers need only go to one place for refunds when they book with a travel agent.”
Customers can also expect a proactive service from their travel agent, he adds. “If you go back a few months when a large number of Aer Lingus flights were cancelled because of their data outage, our team members were contacting customers at the airport to ask them if they wanted us to book them on a different airline the following day or if they wanted a refund. There will always be situations where travel plans get disrupted and travel agent customers have service and advice available to them seven days a week. They can talk to an Irish person in a call centre if they are having an issue while they are away.”
Someone at the end of the phone
Caroline Quigley of entertainment travel specialist Keith Prowse points to the level of expertise the agent brings to the table. “Anyone can go online and book a flight and a show,” she notes. “But we know the shows and what suits people. We make sure their seats are not behind a pillar, for example. And we often get offers from hotels and theatres and can package them up to offer exceptional value. Our agents can also advise where the attractions are if people are visiting a place for the first time. They can let them know the best places to eat, the child-friendly places, and so on. Mostly we will have people who have been to the destination.”
There is also the personal touch. “A lot of people like to talk to a person on the phone,” Quigley adds. “They want that personal service. They may not be comfortable booking on a website. They want to speak to someone who knows about the place they are going to and who can match their booking to their tastes.”
She also points out that, contrary to what many people may believe, agents can very often be the cheaper option. “We negotiate very hard with accommodation providers and entertainment venues and so on to get the best prices for our customers. We will also be able to advise people to go to a show on a Friday night to get better value and we frequently have access to offers that you won’t get on the internet. It’s not just about price. It’s value. Covid definitely highlighted the amount of work done by travel agents.”
Topflight Travel Group marketing manager Michelle Anderson also highlights the level of service offered by travel agents. “Customers can be guaranteed to get the best advice on which holiday suits them,” she says. “The team offers a wealth of knowledge and asks all the right questions to ensure that the resort and accommodation choice suits the clients’ needs. Customers benefit from the team’s first-hand experience of resorts and hotels.”
That level of service has increased in recent years. “Our in-resort teams also get in touch with customers during the week of travel to introduce themselves and answer any questions prior to the holiday. This is a new part of our service offering which is now integral for all Topflight holidays. The team has the local knowledge to answer questions such as: is there a local market; what are the snow conditions like at the moment or what activities are there for the children in the evening?”
That continues in resort. “Once the customer reaches the European airport, a Topflight resort manager and their team will be waiting to meet them in arrivals. We are extremely proud of our expert resort managers who are always on hand, with a wealth of experience and local knowledge, ensuring that everything runs smoothly and that every client enjoys the authentic summer or ski holiday experience that Topflight is so proud to offer. After the last numbers of years, customers are booking in the knowledge that the resort managers and their teams are in resort throughout the holiday, should they be needed. The service level from our in-resort team is a clear winner with our clients. There is a team in place throughout the holiday should they be needed whether it is a simple dinner recommendation or someone requiring medical attention.”
Disruptions during the pandemic proved to be an eye opener for many people, according to Claire Doherty, product and operations director with The Travel Department. “I think most people have learned their lessons since Covid,” she says. “If they didn’t get stung, they know someone who did. If you book your flights and hotels separately and something goes wrong, you’ll have problems with one or the other.”
She points to a salutary tale of an American shopping trip gone wrong. “I know of a case recently where someone travelling to New York was informed the day before departure that their hotel was overbooked and could no longer accommodate them. They were given a full refund but ended up having to pay an extra €1,500 to get accommodation. It was either that or lose the money they had spent on the flights. An agent is obliged to find something else suitable or refund the holiday in full. That’s a big weight off your mind. The agent is legally obliged to look after you from beginning to end.
“People think they pay extra, but they don’t,” she continues. “We get better rates for buying in bulk. We are able to build in a lot of expertise and valuable service without the customer paying over the odds for them. If you get stuck in a foreign country and something happens, there is someone there in your agent to help.”