The Travel Planner Difference – From a Fast Food Commercial

This morning, I heard a radio commercial for a fast food restaurant – McDonald’s I believe – that perfectly defined the difference between using a professional travel planner (consultant, advisor) as compared to an online travel agency. In the commercial, a man calls the front desk of a hotel where he’s staying and tries to order a breakfast meal from said food place- breakfast sandwich, coffee, something like that. The remaining conversation goes as such, and I’m paraphrasing here:

Front desk agent: “um sir, we don’t have that restaurant here in the hotel.”

Hotel patron: “But there’s a McDonald’s(?) right across the street, and the front desk said ‘anything we can do to make your stay more pleasant.'”

The front desk agent: “Well, we did say that.”

Hotel patron: “Great, can you throw in some hash browns too?”

The front desk agent then presumably goes across the street get the meal, since it is after all a commercial for the fast food place, and it wouldn’t be very good marketing if he didn’t.

The point is, though, that the front desk agent promised “whatever we can do to make your stay better” and truly meant it – including running across the street to get this man’s breakfast sandwich. That, right there, is the difference between working with an unknown online travel agency and a professional planner with whom you develop a personal relationship. When you need something customized, when something goes wrong, when you have a detailed question, you call a mass online travel agency and you get a call center rep. It’s so impersonal at times that they aren’t even allowed to give you their last name or a personal extension to call them back. The reps often times aren’t in the travel industry at all, except the fact that they’re answering phones for an online company. They haven’t had destination training, the individual reps don’t have personal connections with local suppliers on the ground in your destination, hotels don’t recognize that rep personally as an industry professional. This isn’t to say that the companies aren’t known – they’re practically household names thanks to mass market and lots of advertising – but their employees with whom the clients work don’t develop those personal relationships.

When you work with a professional travel planner, though, you do benefit from this customization, this industry knowledge and experience, these personal relationships with suppliers. I know my clients’ travel preferences, favorite airlines and hotel brands, must haves and can’t stands. I have exclusive access to suppliers and ground operators because of my industry partnerships. I can reach out to a hotel contact or tour representative provided specifically to travel professionals in my region only, many of whom I have a established personal relationships with. Finally, I have a very personal interest in each and every client. My business isn’t run on high volume, one and done sales. A happy client is a client who returns, who refers others, and who I am truly helping live out their travel dreams. I work with every client individually, often over the period of several months, and when you get to know someone like this, you want to ensure that they have their ideal trip – it makes you happy to see them happy, as cheesy as that sounds. They’re not just a number going to a call center, they’re someone I now know personally. I think this can be said of many of today’s professional travel planners – certainly many that I know.

This doesn’t mean that a travel planner can fix absolutely any problem at any time. If the flight gets cancelled and the airline you “must” fly on because you want to earn miles does not operate any other flights that day, I cannot get them to schedule one. We are only human and even the most influential of us have occasionally run into a situation that we cannot control – i.e a volcano erupting in Iceland and all airports across Western Europe being shut down. However, in situations like this we can work with our trusted suppliers to find the best and quickest solution, and we can get to these solutions much quicker because of our personal relationships.

This, in a rather large nutshell, is the difference. And, while we as professionals we’d prefer you and not ask us to run across the street and fetch your bagel sandwich for you, I do offer new clients a complimentary consultation, and often we meet at a coffee shop, where I’m happy to buy them a coffee to enjoy while we discuss their future travel plans.


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