Why I Can’t Beat Your Online Price
May 26th, 2011

A glance at the title, and this blog probably appears counter productive at best and detrimental at worst to my business. Hear me out, though. I read something recently about why consumers say that they do not use travel agents.  The consumers’ antiquated view of travel agents frustrated me at first, and then I realized that for people that have never used a travel agent, or haven’t in a long time, it’s not their fault. They are simply basing their thoughts on the information that has been “out there” about travel agents until recently. So I thought I’d address it in a blog post head on.

First, let me point something out – I don’t consider myself a travel agent and I never have. The term “agent” sounds to me like a bunch of old ladies sitting behind a desk gossiping and printing paper tickets and doing so because they want to get free travel.  What I do is about as close to that as it is to being the foreman on a construction site.  I consider myself a travel planner, though I’ve also heard the term consultant, which I could handle as well. I also always add the word “professional” in when people ask me what I do: I’m a professional travel planner. Why? Because it’s the truth, and planning travel is my career. I own my company and I do this full time after having completed a Masters degree and a lot of training in the travel industry. I don’t say this because I want people to ooh and ahh at my credentials. I say it because I want readers to understand that there are plenty of us in the travel industry that have as much education, training and professional experience, if not more, than in many other industries. We are not planning travel as a part time gig on the side to get free vacations – because in fact I’ve never gotten a free, or even close to free, trip in my years as a travel planner.

To address the title of this article, I used it because one of the top things people ask me when they hear what I do is something like “I saw a flight on (insert online booking engine here) for xyz price. Can you get me anything cheaper than that?”  I answer honestly – a nice form of the phrase “probably not.”  I’m not saying that no travel planners can do this; it’s just that it’s not my focus. I don’t try to beat online flight prices or find the cheapest hotel room in New York City. My value to my clients is my customer service, my knowledge and my experience.  I provide my clients with a consultation and get to know them so that I can create an itinerary and trip that meets their specific needs, interests and preferences from start to finish. I personally conduct the communication with them. If they call me at midnight because they’ve missed their flight somewhere they get me on the phone, not an answering service that has no idea who they are or where they’re traveling.

Simply put, I provide my clients with expertise and security that no amount of searching quick deal sites will. My leisure clients do not have the time or resources to spend hours researching their safari through Africa or multi-country European vacation. My corporate clients want to know that their conference attendees are taken care of at every turn – from being met at the airport with a sign bearing their names to the travels they often take pre or post-conference to make the most of the 8-hour flight they took to get there.

Online, you get no personal stories to explain to clients why you’re suggesting a particular tour or hotel. Online sites won’t steer you away from traveling to a hurricane zone during hurricane season – in fact they’ll encourage it with cheaper prices; they won’t tell you that if you’re visiting Venice in December or January you’d better bring your rain boots because it floods sometimes up to your knees or higher. Yes, you can scour various review sites in addition to searching for the best online price. Wouldn’t it be more efficient and reliable to have it all in one place, from someone whose reputation and career is built on providing excellent knowledge and service to their customers through personalization? It’s the same reason I want to use my trusted mechanic to fix my car instead of rattling around under the hood myself when it’s not something I do on a regular basis. I also understand that I need to pay my mechanic for this time and knowledge –he’s the professional and I’ve hired him to do a job.  Perhaps I could save a little money and do it myself, but it would be a lot messier and quite possibly a lot more frustrating when something went wrong.

This is why I can’t beat your online price. It’s not what I do. What I can do is give you the best value.  These are two completely different things. There are times that online booking is fine – if you need a quick flight or last minute hotel deal and are ok with researching this yourself, for instance. If you want more than this and you want to feel confident that you’re taken care of if something goes awry, it’s a different story. That’s when you go to your travel planner. And please don’t ask them to beat the online price.


2 Responses to “Why I Can’t Beat Your Online Price”

  1. maya says:

    Thanks, Maura! Yes I can definitely see the similarities to financial planning as well as so many other planning industries. You are right about the “old school travel agents”, that is pretty much where the online booking comes in. For niche travel, planners that specialize in that niche are where the value is added. I think often the case is that people don’t realize all of the behind-the-scenes work because if you do your job well, they get a good result often quickly and they see it as easy. In reality, it only looks easy because we do a good job with it!

  2. Maura says:

    This blog makes a lot of sense and I can totally relate it to my field of financial planning. Sometimes people complain about the fees as if all we do is stick their money in a allocation fund and go home. In reality, people with large net worths and many planning issues need a lot more assistance than that. If, however, someone has $5,000 to invest in an IRA, then they do not need our services. They can just go put it in a no load mutual fund.
    It is important to realize that within all fields there are niches. My assumption would be that many of the old school travel “agents” that you speak of have been replaced by internet travel sites. From your description, it sounds like where your company adds value is for folks who have speific and more complex travel needs requiring high levels of coordination and background knowledge.
    To use your comparison, you go to the mechanic to fix your engine problems. But, you take it in to clean your windshield.

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