Despite online options, travel agencies still staying busyFARGO - The Internet has brought the world to our computers and phones, making it a simple thing to book flights and reserve hotel rooms online. It begs the question: Is there anything left for travel agencies to do?
By: Dave Olson, INFORUM
FARGO - The Internet has brought the world to our computers and phones, making it a simple thing to book flights and reserve hotel rooms online.
It begs the question: Is there anything left for travel agencies to do?
Sandie Anders has an answer to that question, but if you’re not a client it may take her a while to get back to you.
“We have been absolutely swamped; we’ve had walk-ins, the phones have been crazy,” said Anders, manager of the Bursch Travel office in Fargo.
Anders and other area travel agents will tell you they keep very busy, often with corporate clients but also with groups of leisure travelers – including family and friends of brides and grooms who want loved ones with them when they get hitched in exotic locales.
And for all its ubiquitous power, the Internet has not hit travel agencies as hard as 9/11 did, Anders said. Only recently are people taking to the skies the way they did before Sept. 11, 2001, she said.
“It’s taken time. Our industry was hit very, very hard,” she said. “People still have fears, and not everyone is completely comfortable with flying.”
“I get people who have never been on an airplane,” Anders said. “I’m more than happy to walk them through what they need to do, from the time they get off that aircraft to the time they get to their next gate.”
One area where travel agents say they are not as busy as in the past is booking quick flights to places like Las Vegas.
But even those trips, Anders said, can be made easier with help from a travel agent, given that most planes are booked to the gills and hassles often erupt when flights are delayed or canceled due to things like bad weather.
“With the storms that have hit, I’ve had customers standing in line with 100 other people call me and say, ‘Sandie, I’m not getting on the next flight, what can you do for me?’ ” Anders said.
What she often does, she said, is come up with a solution in short order and call the client back with a plan of action.
“That’s how we help people,” she said.
Tod Ganje, manager of Travel Inc. in Moorhead, said he bears the Internet no ill will.
In fact, he said if more people are going online to book simple flights themselves, it means agents have more time to help clients working on more complicated travel plans.
“For a successful travel agency, it really comes down to relationships,” Ganje said. “Repeat business and word of mouth are huge for us.”
So, where are most people going these days?
“As long as we have a cold, cold winter, people really want to get out of it,” Ganje said, adding that Mexico and Caribbean islands are among top destinations during the winter, as are U.S. cities like Orlando and Las Vegas.
During warmer months, travel agents say Europe remains a popular place to go in spring, summer and fall.
Also, river cruising, whether it be in Europe or Asia, is growing in popularity as it allows people to really see the inside of countries while only unpacking once, said Gene LaDoucer, spokesman for AAA Travel Agency in Fargo.
Anders said one common misconception people have about travel agencies is that working with a travel agent significantly increases the cost of a trip.
“Clients say, ‘Hey, I see this on Travelocity, what can you get me?’ ’’ Anders said, adding that more times than not she can meet or beat a given price.
“Our $20 to $40 (fees) are very minimal,” she said.
Ganje said one of the more unusual trips he has helped plan involved an individual who wanted to explore the Mediterranean and Middle East regions via a cargo ship.
“He wanted to explore the world,” Ganje said. “What he wanted us to do was get him to the ship and help him afterward.”
Anders said she once got a call from a mother who had a daughter serving in the Peace Corps.
“I needed to get her (the daughter) out of South Africa,” Anders said.
LaDoucer said travel agents are seeing strong business these days and his agency is busier than it’s been in quite some time.
“You might even call it a rebound of people coming to travel agencies to take care of their travel needs,” he added.
To a great extent, he said, that rebound is being driven by the pressures placed on people’s time.
“While they (travelers) have the access to the Internet and can do it themselves, they find that making all those arrangements takes a great deal of time,” LaDoucer said.
He said clients will often use the Internet to do a little research before turning to a travel agent to actually pull it all together.
Part of AAA Travel’s business is auto travel counseling for people planning road trips, and LaDoucer said that side of the business is cruising along better than ever.
“Recently, we’ve seen several requests for really long trips, like 6,000-10,000 miles,” he said.
When it comes to helping clients plan vacations, LaDoucer said some of AAA Travel’s more interesting bookings lately included arranging a one-month trip to Australia, New Zealand and Fiji.
He said another vacation involved booking a resort in Hawaii that charges $1,500 a night.
Hot winter vacation destinations
Travel agents say they are booking lots of getaways to:
• Las Vegas
• The Caribbean
When the weather turns warmer, travel agents say Europe is a popular travel destination for many in the Fargo-Moorhead area, with river cruises growing in popularity.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555.