Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Travel Agents: The Good, the Bad and the “Studly”

By David McGuffin

Everybody goes on vacation from time to time.  For some it is the payoff for a year of toil.  For others, it is an adventure that was years in the making.  Whether you are looking to let off a little steam or you are an adrenaline junkie looking for your next fix, the difference between a good vacation and a nightmare all comes down to choosing the right travel agent and tour operator.

 For this article, I’ll use the terms travel agent and tour operator in much the same context.  In fact, let’s just call them travel providers, however, there is a difference.  Typically, a travel agent provides a varied selection of travel services to the public such as:  airline tickets, hotel accommodations, automobile rentals, river and ocean cruises, packaged tours and much more.  Think of them as your one-stop shop for all your travel needs.  Tour operators, on the other hand, specialize in one particular tour product or destination.  These can include destination specific tours, cruises, adventure travel, group tours, themed tours, and much more.   For example, our company, David McGuffin’s Exploring Europe, is a tour operator specializing in European small group and independent travel.  

The first thing you have to understand is the travel business is so large that there is no single agent, operator or travel provider that can plan the perfect vacation to all parts of the globe.  Today, travel providers are a lot like doctors… they specialize in one area.  Some travel providers are experts in booking cruises, while others specialize in group tours and independent travel.  However, even within these areas of specialization, no two travel providers have precisely the same experience.  What this means is that unless you want to roll the dice and take your chances on picking an agent or tour operator that can either make or break your vacation, you need to understand how to weed them out.

Good Travel Providers

 Begin your search for travel expert by realizing that the lowest price doesn’t always represent the best value.  So using online portals such as Travelocity. Orbitz and Priceline isn’t where you should start your search, unless price is your only consideration.  Think of a good travel provider as a consultant.  He or she has spent years learning about the industry and what it represents to clients.  A good travel provider has had experience working with hundreds or even thousands of travelers and many destinations as well.  They have been in the game long enough to know what hotels and tour activities are up to snuff and which are not.  They have had to make a call in the dead of night to straighten out a client’s lost reservation or missed connection.  They form a bond with clients that transcends a mere pay-for-hire relationship.

Make no mistake about it, the bond between a travel provider and a client should not be taken lightly.  Just as with any other business, good and bad reviews can make or break a travel provider’s reputation.  This is also a reason why you should always perform a web search of any travel provider with which you are considering doing business. Any travel provider worth their salt will have reviews online.  Start off by going to the search engine of your choice and typing in the name of the travel provider followed by the word “reviews.”  You’d be surprised what you can find out with a web search. 

Next, go to the travel provider’s website in order to look for blogs, videos and testimonials.  This will also provide you with insight regarding the travel provider’s experience and areas of specialization.  Do the tours posted look like something that you and your family would enjoy?  Are the prices a good fit for your budget, or are they out of your league. 

Last but not least, pick up the phone and give them a call.  Personality as well as experience plays a big part in choosing the right travel provider.  In fact, that is the primary reason to work with a particular travel provider.  No matter how good of a deal the website promotes, if you feel that the agency is either too inexperienced, or too busy to deal with your wants and needs, look elsewhere.  That’s also a reason to avoid making your decision based entirely on price.  Speaking of price, don’t believe that working with a travel provider is going to cost you more than booking a trip on your own.  Far from it.  Since good agencies have many contacts in the industry, they can many times save you money since they receive information that is not posted to the general public.  (That being said, when dealing with a travel agent, you’ll want to make sure to understand any commissions or booking fees related to your trip.)

Bad Travel Providers

Bad travel providers either don’t know or they don’t care.  This means that they either have had little experience and connections in the industry, or they are simply a gun for hire that is more interested in selling tours and travel products than building a lasting relationship with clients.  While a number of travel providers are overworked and underpaid, what’s even worse is when a travel provider is a crook.

In a quote from an article on entitled, “9 Ways to Tell if Your Travel Agent is Crooked,

“As a rule, most travel agents are well-trained, competent professionals who work hard for you. But there are exceptions to every rule. Take Kathleen Rossano of East Brunswick, N.J., who was recently sentenced to a 10-year prison term for stealing more than $75,000 from her travel agency. Prosecutors had charged her with offering luxury vacations to her friends, taking cash payments, billing the expenses to her agency's credit card and then pocketing the money.  It was the fourth time she'd been convicted of taking money from former employers.
A month later, her former agency, Cruise Value Center, collapsed without paying the cruise lines what they were owed and leaving customers in the lurch. One of the clients recently contacted me in a panic after her cruise line demanded an additional payment of $2,544 for her vacation because the cruise line had been stiffed by the agency.” 
How many of her clients do you think were lured in by low prices posted on her website?  When it comes to crooked agents and thieving tour operators, how hard do you think it is to set up a website that makes offers that are too good to be true, only to take the money and run?  That’s one of the reasons you need to check out any agency before you lay down your hard earned money.  The Frommers article goes onto provide readers with the following 9 warning signs pointing to a terrible tour provider:

1.      Demands you pay in cash,
2.      Acts funny when you bring up commissions,
3.      Adds a booking fee to your bill after you’ve decided to buy a vacation,
4.      Has no certification,
5.      Doesn’t know a thing about the place you are going to visit,
6.      Has a Better Business Bureau rap sheet,
7.      Is impossible to reach,
8.      Doesn’t listen,
9.      I bought my agency certification online for a few hundred bucks!

“Studly” Travel Providers

The best travel providers stand out from the crowd.  They are not merely knowledgeable about a destination, they are experts.  They have been to the places to which you are looking to travel and know the lay of the land.  They can not only describe the places you are going to see, but they can tell you about some of the people you will meet.  Some travel providers will not only book a cruise or tour, but lead it as well. They will be there to make sure that nothing goes wrong. When it comes to getting the most out of a trip, having an experienced travel provider and tour guide can make all the difference in the world.  Working with a superstar agency may cost a bit more, but when you consider that a vacation comes but once a year, travel satisfaction is priceless.

To summarize, there are good, bad and “studly” tour providers.  Commonly, these consist of both travel agents and tour operators.  A good tour provider knows its clients, is an expert in its destinations, offers stellar customer service, has good online reviews, is well respected in the community and offers a good value for the tour experience.  Bad tour providers are interested solely in selling a product, often have little or no experience in their tour destinations, may have poor online reviews and an extensive Better Business Bureau “rap sheet” and typically, are not certified or licensed.  The “studly” tour provider is a trusted friend who provides stellar customer service, fantastic travel opportunities and is an expert in their specialized destinations.

 If you found this article informative, please share it with your friends, family, coworkers and associates.  If you have something to add, just leave a comment in the box below.    

Do you want to learn more about traveling in Europe?  There is a wealth of information and special discount pricing at my website.  Visit now at

David McGuffin is Founder and CEO of David McGuffin’s Exploring Europe, Inc., based in Middleburg, Florida.  You can connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn and YouTube.   David spends his time in Europe organizing and leading small group and independent tours to European destinations. In business since 2001, David has provided exceptional travel opportunities to several thousand satisfied customers. You can find out more about David and his European tours at his website,

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