We Asked! Vol.5: Is it time to take a vacation from booking trips online?
Vacation weeks are the best weeks, so we all want to do everything in our power to make sure we get the most out of them. Online booking is so common these days, it’s almost a no-brainer as far as organizing your next vacation goes. But what about travel agents and advisors? Booking online offers the promise of convenience and lower prices, but what could be more convenient than placing a call to an expert and letting them handle all the details? We asked four #downtownkelowna travel experts how to book your dream vacation at a price that’s often as good or better than what you’ll find online, and why a travel agent should be your new best friend.
Please tell us who you are, where you work, and what you do there.
I am Brenda Sbrozzi with Travel Time Inc. – a full service travel agency with three offices including one in Downtown Kelowna. I am the Operations & Marketing Manager for all 3 offices.
I’m Kyle Oram, the CEO of KVI Travel. We have a storefront here in Kelowna as well as 70 agents in 15 countries all around the world.
I’m Jodi MacDonald. I’m one of the managing partners here at Uniglobe Direct Travel.
And I’m Christine Clark, the other managing partner at Uniglobe.
Lots of people are booking their travel online, why should they turn off the computer and come see a travel agent?
Brenda: Travel Time doesn’t employ Travel Agents – we employ Professional Travel Advisors who provide travellers with a wealth of knowledge about travel & travel destinations, expert advice regarding options available, an experience tailored to the traveller’s needs & interests, someone to assist when plans change or emergencies happen, convenience (one-stop shopping) plus time savings and our Advisors are always dedicated to our travellers’ best interest.
Kyle: We can beat any price out there and we’re much more custom than any website can be. You can search for an all-inclusive in Mexico and end up loving it or hating it, and have no one there to advocate for you or let you know what’s best for you.
Christine: From the corporate side, we find a lot of companies looking for travel management. So if you have 10 employees, you don’t really want them hopping around on different sites and booking things without any real oversight. So, we find corporate comes to us for that reason alone. For leisure, or vacation, we have such a wealth of information personally. Not just between the two of us, but with the 20 agents that work for and with us, chances are wherever you’re looking to go, someone has been there. And that’s a huge advantage to actually talk to someone who has been there. For something as simple as an all-inclusive out of Kelowna, there are hundreds of options. They’ll all look good. They’ve all been Photoshopped. But how do you know which ones are really good? We know those answers. When it comes to really expensive trips where people are doing bucket-list trips and spending fifty thousand and up (it happens a lot), you don’t want to book that online. You need some real guidance.
Does it cost more to book through a travel agent?
Brenda: Our Professional Travel Advisors usually book at the same or better rates than online, and often with extra values or amenities included. Travel Time does charge Professional Fees for the services we provide and these fees can range from $25 and up based on the extent of services provided.
Kyle: It’s a myth that travel agents cost more. We get paid on the back end by the suppliers, so we can probably find you a better price than you’ll find online and our fee comes out of that lower price. Plus we’re much more custom and can give you better advice as well. If you’re looking for an adults-only resort, you’re not going to wind up with one with kids. Or if you’re a young couple looking to go on a cruise, I can tell you from experience which cruise lines are better for you.
Jodi: Generally, it might cost a little less. We have preferred wholesale partners, so sometimes we can get a little better rate than what you will see online. The amount of time you spend online researching is something you have to take in consideration, and then time of travel is a big one. If an online fare is $599 and here it’s $649, it costs more, but you’ll get there faster because it doesn’t have two extra connections you didn’t know about. In the end, we’re finding the value of booking with an agent is higher than what you’ll find online.
Christine: Sometimes we get people who come in and then just want the cheapest fare we can find, and we can do some quick checking. We might find a fare that’s $20 more than the cheapest, but it’s direct so you’re not going to spend time in airports buying $10 bottles of water. Every stop you make adds costs.
Can you help me with trip planning beyond just booking tickets?
Brenda: We consider our Professional Travel Advisors to be the “Managers of Yes” – if you have the time and the budget, we can make a travel experience happen. And we prefer to provide “one-stop” shopping to ensure that all our client needs are met. We can provide flights, accommodations, tours, public or private transfers, public or private excursions, car rentals, tickets to sporting or music events, travel visas, travel insurance and lots more.
Kyle: Absolutely. If you just need tickets from say here to Edmonton, go to the airline website and book it. It’s simple. We do the complex stuff like customized packages. We’ll get you from A to B and all points in between. We’ll get you insurance. If you’re going on a cruise, we’ll look after your shore excursions. We can work out your alcohol package if you want to add on. We do the entire package for you.
Jodi: 100% yes. So many people have air miles or points now that they use for the air portion of their trip, but we do work with a lot of land suppliers, so we can put together itineraries that organizes your travel at destination with things like hotels and transfers.
What if something goes wrong while I’m away, say a hotel is overbooked, can you help me then?
Brenda: As Professional Travel Advisors, we monitor our clients travel prior, during and after departure to ensure they receive the products & services confirmed with our agency. If someone has chosen to book travel on their own, we may be able to assist however due to confidentiality and privacy laws, we would require a large amount of information about the booking before we could attempt to assist. That’s why we prefer to provide “one-stop” shopping – it ensures that we can assist throughout the client’s entire travel experience.
Kyle: That’s probably the number one reason to use a travel agent. An online site is going to leave you hanging. If you don’t book through a travel agent, you’re basically on your own. All of my team are connected and online 24/7, so if it’s Sunday night and you miss a flight, you can call your agent and we’ll get you sorted and on your way.
Christine: Absolutely. Especially if we booked the hotel, we’d get to the bottom of it and sort that out. Even if we haven’t booked the hotel, we’d still help the traveller out and get them booked into something close by.
Jodi: We have a “Rescue Line” that’s operates 24 hours a day. So if you do book with us we provide you with that toll-free number.
Is there an instance where you’d suggest I just book online?
Brenda: No … that would be like telling you to drive without insurance. Plans can change and emergencies can happen so you’re taking a risk and as mentioned above, we can’t always help you if something goes wrong.
Kyle: Like I said. Booking an easy flight domestically like one flight from A to B, just go to the website and book it. Anything else, it’s always safe to go to an agent. Often we have hidden specials or stuff that’s not advertised that we can offer. Or we can find you things like the better cabin on the cruise ship that you might not be able to get online.
Jodi: No. You’re getting the same price as you would with an agent, so why not just use an agent. Unless you’re booking a quick one way ticket to Vancouver and it’s $39 and you can see there’s only one left, then I’d say book it. Maybe in that case.
I want to get away from it all. Where should I go?
Brenda: We would want to know more about you before making any recommendations. As Professional Travel Advisors, we take the time to understand what you’re looking for, what activities relax you, what type of accommodations you prefer, your budget, etc. Once we know more about you, we then work to provide a unique travel experience customized just for you.
Kyle: Alaska cruises are wonderful. Easy to get to from here, and simple to do a seven day cruise. If you don’t mind the international flight, Scandinavia and Baltic Europe are very popular right now and beautiful.
Jodi: If you don’t want to go far, my first option is always Hawaii. It’s very quick to get there. Maybe over to the big island where it’s a bit quieter. There are black rock beaches and pink rock beaches. Lots of things to see, and it can be pretty quiet.
I’ve been there for a week and I’m tired of all the solitude. Where to now?
Brenda: Our Professional Travel Advisors monitor your travel while you’re in destination and should you want to make a change, we would work to make the change happen. Because we tailor our recommendations to your preferences needs and wants; change requests rarely happen.
Kyle: After the Alaskan Cruise, there are lots of great add-ons. A great one is the Rocky Mountaineer rail tour. It takes you from Vancouver to Kamloops and through to Banff. Or there are some nice customized road trips to hot springs in the Kootenays.
Jodi: Las Vegas. For three to five days. The restaurants are incredible. You don’t have to be a gambler. Great cocktails. Lots of live performances. Good shopping.
Have you been to a lot of places?
Brenda: I’ve travelled throughout most of Western Europe and the Mediterranean, Scandinavia, lots of Canada and the USA (including Hawaii), Mexico and the Caribbean. It’s important to note that Travel Time has a staff of 25 Travel Advisors and between all of them, our staff have travelled to every continent around the globe, including Africa, Southeast Asia, Japan, South America and even Antarctica.
Kyle: I try to go everywhere I sell. I just did a Caribbean Cruise. I was in Orlando last month. I’m doing a Viking river cruise in August and then spending a week in England. And then Hawaii in December and Mexico in September. Always moving around.
Jodi: I was in Germany last month, and Christine is going over to Ireland. I’ve been to 12 countries in Europe. We’re fortunate. We go to Europe for an international conference every two years, and it’s always in a different place. So we usually take another week and explore another part of Europe, and we’ve both been to Asia, South America and Africa.
What’s your favourite place?
Brenda: Italy – mostly towns and cities within the Tuscan Region
Kyle: Hawaii. It’s my favourite place on earth that I’ve been to. I’d go back over and over and over again. It’s paradise. There’s no bad season to go. The people are gracious and kind. You spend a little bit more, but you really get what you pay for in Hawaii.
Christine: I love the Caribbean in the winter because of all the different islands and all the different cultures on the islands, and the white sandy beaches. And it’s nice to get away from the winter weather.
Jodi: It depends on who you’re with and what you’re doing. But if I had to say one, I’ve been to Italy a few times. Can’t beat that place. Somewhere a little different? Maybe Vietnam. It has everything. The food. Incredible culture. The beaches. Cities. The back roads. And it’s very reasonable to travel there.
Do you book your own trips or do you have an agent to do it for you?
Brenda: I always use a Professional Travel Advisor from Travel Time.
Kyle: I book my own because I’m an agent. I’ve been doing it for 20 years, so I’m pretty good at customizing my own trips.
Jodi: It depends on the trip. If I was going to Britain and Ireland, I’d ask Christine because that’s her home. Sandy in our office does a lot of cruising, so I’d get her to book that for me.
Christine: We all have different areas of expertise, so we ask each other for advice, but we keep it in the Uniglobe family.
Have a vacation on the horizon? Maybe it’s time to let a travel agent plan it for you? Whether it’s a quick getaway to an all-inclusive or months-long bucket list adventure, it’s nice to have an expert on your side when you book, and while you’re away. And your first stop should be one of these three #downtownkelowna travel experts who gave us their time and answered everything We Asked!
Interviews have been edited and condensed by the Downtown Kelowna Association.