Even though the Internet has cooled down the travel agency industry, travel agents are not yet extinct. While the Internet offers do-it-yourself travelers direct access to reservations and accommodations, the expertise and experience of a travel agent is an invaluable asset. The travel agent not only organizes and manages the transportation and lodging details of your trip, but tailors your trip to suit your purpose and desires. To make the most of your vacation, choose an experienced, certified travel agent with whom you can build a friendly rapport. The best travel agent should be available at any time, ask detailed questions about your travel preferences and intentions, and have a history of satisfied customers willing to refer him or her.
First, check out the the agent's accreditations or license. The best travel agents advertise their certifications and accomplishments in office windows or wall displays. Some states or provinces require a travel agent to obtain a license and register with the state government, so ask the agent if he or she is licensed with the state. Avoid an unlicensed travel agent working in a state that requires licensure.
In the United States, look for an agent affiliated with travel industry trade associations, such as the Association of Retail Travel Agents (ARTA), American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) and Certified Travel Counselor (CTC). If in the United Kingdom, look for The Travel Association (ABTA) certification. These associations show that the agent has passed some examinations and is financially or ethically committed to providing exceptional service. An agent may be additionally affiliated with a franchise that may offer better rates or travel packages.
During the initial consultation, the best travel agent asks multiple, probing questions about your trip. A good travel agent asks questions regarding the purpose and expectations of your trip, any companions and their preferences, physical mobility or dietary restrictions and more. By asking such questions, the agent can determine the best possible travel services to give you the best possible travel experience.
The best travel agent is available 24 hours, seven days a week. Travel agencies should have a toll-free telephone number you can call at any time of the day in case of emergency. Some agencies offer answering services that take your question and contact you as soon as an agent is available. Before settling on an agent, ask questions about their availability and emergency contact policy.
Finally, select an agent with whom you can build a personal rapport. The best travel agent is friendly, experienced and supported by previous customers who offer good references. Consider asking the agent for a list of his or her best suppliers. Call these companies and obtain references from them as well. The suppliers often offer a slightly different perspective of the agent as a business partner and can reveal the agent's strengths and weaknesses in a way that travelers cannot.