Travel Tips

Why There’s a Post-Quarantine Demand for Travel Agents

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Photo: Getty Images/Jacobs Stock Photography
After a year and a half of life during the pandemic, many Americans are itching to travel (if they haven't yet already). In fact, according to a recent survey from Forbes and YouGov focused on summer travel intent, nearly nine in 10 Americans say they plan to travel within the next six months. But in a world with hotel, restaurant, and country restrictions changing on a regular basis, that itch to plan travel only gets a responsible jet-setter so far. Enter: the rise of travel agents. Or, perhaps re-enter is more apt.

Once believed to be a dying industry due to the proliferation of digital-booking platforms for various types of reservations, experiences, and services, travel agents and agencies are having a renaissance post-quarantine. As of April 2021, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts the job outlook to decline 26 percent between 2019 and 2026, however, it also specifies that "the sheer number of travel and review websites can make travel planning a frustrating experience for some consumers. This may lead to an increasing number of people turning to travel agents to help filter through the options and give personal recommendations."

And according to new data, factoring in complex conditions that can come with traveling against the backdrop of the pandemic, these trusted experts and advisors can provide peace of mind by ensuring travel is safe and smooth. In fact, according to American Express Travel's 2021 Global Travel Trends Report of 3,000 travelers worldwide, nearly 60 percent of travelers surveyed want to use a travel agent to help plan and customize their next trip.

“I am finding that more and more clients who have never used or considered a travel advisor before are reaching out.” —Brianna Glenn, owner of Milk + Honey Travels.

“I am finding that more and more clients who have never used or considered a travel advisor before are reaching out,” says Brianna Glenn, owner of Milk + Honey Travels. “There is a lot more uncertainty, and they need help navigating it all. It's our job [as travel agents] to keep up with changing protocols around how to travel safely.” Beyond the initial planning services, Glenn points out how, amid constant changes in travel restrictions, travelers also now want someone in their corner who can adjust plane tickets and reservations on the fly.

Depending on the scope of the trip, travel agents can also, crucially, help clients pick out the best travel insurance policy for their needs. While working with a travel agent doesn't inherently protect from the risk of cancelation fees during this uncertain time, they can help travelers make the most informed choices about any risk they are taking on, which might mean booking certain experiences over others.

That added peace of mind that can come with having the approval of an expert during times marked by regular and often confusing policy changes is part of the allure of working with a travel agent during the pandemic. And that's the case for folks who want their whole trip planned, those who just want some expert validation, and everyone else in-between. For Glenn, the level of involvement she has in clients' trips depends on their needs and wants. “I try and meet my clients where they are,” she says. “Some people start the process unsure of where in the world they even want to go, so my job is to direct them to a destination that fits the parameters of what they're looking to experience, when they're trying to travel, and the budget range they are comfortable with.”

For those who have already researched their destination and know the type of destination they want, Glenn is simply there to ensure it all comes together seamlessly. “I’m happy to do all the dreaming or simply bring the dream to life.”

Costs to consider with using a travel agent

Because many travel agents are paid by the vendors they work with (hotels, airlines, etc.), travelers can often access their services for little to no extra cost outside of the trip itself. And because some travel agents have access to discounted rates from various companies, certain packages may be accessible at a better rate than if a traveler bought it directly. Some agents require a planning deposit of around $75 to $100 that is refunded back to clients once the booking is finalized.

Other options are membership based, like Prior, which charges $249 annually for access to its content platform and various experiences, and an additional $500 for custom travel itineraries created by in-house "travel designers." And Elsewhere, which launched during the pandemic, is a direct-to-local platform that connects travelers to local experts to create custom itineraries, which vary in price depending on what's included in each itinerary. Travel agents specializing in luxury travel also often charge annual membership fees that grant their clients access to insider deals and VIP experiences, which can escalate into the price point of thousands.

Since travel agencies now vary in how they structure their services, fees, and experiences, before choosing to work with one in particular, it's best to ask about any fees associated, and what you should expect to ultimately receive.

Agent-adjacent trip-planning resources

If you find yourself dreaming of travel, but hesitant to seek out expert support, there are several digital services that travel agents recommend to get your planning started. “Right now, the website that is saving me is Sherpa,” says Glenn. “It’s perfect for determining what is open, and what you will need in order to travel there.” Glenn also recommends Google Flights for price comparisons by date and destination, and Tripit for keeping all the logistical details in one place.

No matter where you choose to travel in the months to come, rest assured that there are agents—or tools they recommend you use—at the ready to either point you in the right direction, or to shoulder the burden of ensuring your next trip is as simple and stress-free as possible.

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