While online booking and aggregators have disrupted the travel business, travel agencies still dominate some markets, such as business travel, cruise ships, resort and theme park vacations, honeymoon travel, activity-based trips (photography tours etc), multi-stop tours, and adventurous journeys such as safaris.
Travel agencies have been around since the 19th century. A travel agent is usually a good option for a journey which extends beyond a traveller's previous experience of nature, culture, language or low-income countries.
Although most agencies are willing to take on most regular bookings, many agents specialise in particular types of travel, budget ranges or destinations. It can be better to use an agent who frequently books similar trips to yours. Take a look at what trips the agent is promoting, whether on a website or in a shop window. Some agents may mainly sell complete package trips pre-planned by their head office or another agent; at the other extreme some agents may be prepared to plan a complete trip in detail for a client, including theatre bookings etc.
You may engage with a travel agent by calling into a physical shop, or by phoning either the shop or a central call center. If you are booking a straightforward package, then you may book it online using the agent's website.
Pros and cons
Much online advice about travel agencies is provided by the business itself, and might have a bias toward using a travel agency.
- Saving time before the journey. While some people see the planning as a pleasure in itself, others might prefer to leave the effort to a travel agent.
- An international travel agent can be assumed to handle language and culture barriers between the client and the destination.
- The travel agent's deal usually provides some travel insurance perks itself. They may have different terms for cancellation – by you or because of bankruptcy or some force majeure – than a direct booking with an airline or hotel would have.
- A travel agent's knowledge about the destination is usually up to date, including the risk factors and information from travel advisories.
- An established travel agent could be more reliable. They can be expected to select suppliers with a good track record. If you have complaints, the law might give you a stronger case against a domestic travel agency, than you would have against a foreign carrier or resort. A travel agent might also be more dependent on goodwill than more anonymous service providers. If you travel with a legacy airline and sleep at an international hotel chain, the opposite could however be true.
- A travel agent might offer a credit plan for later payment.
- You are less likely to make an expensive mix-up with a travel agent – for instance booking a flight to Birmingham in England and an hotel in Birmingham in Alabama; or booking the wrong date.
- A travel agent can help to re-arrange your itinerary if it becomes disrupted during your trip – if airline flight times change or weather disrupts travel. Depending on the cause of the disruption and the consumer protection rules in the country where you book, the travel agent may have to bear some of the costs of these re-arrangements.
- A travel agent can be helpful in dealing with visa bureaucracy.
There are some downsides.
- In most cases, a travel agency is more expensive than if you had made all the bookings yourself.
- A travel agent might have an exclusive deal with an airline alliance or a hotel chain, which limits their options.
- Travel agents might not offer the precise itinerary you are looking for, or only as a tailor-made choice at a markup.
- As a client of a travel agency, you might miss out on loyalty bonus score from airlines and hotels.
- Travel agents may have difficulty in booking some aspects of a trip – a small hotel may not appear in the agent's booking system, or a local express train may be quicker than the bus connection that they can book.