Wondering whether or not to use the services of a travel advisor or a travel agent? Confused by the two terms? Wondering about the differences between them? Or even if there really are any differences?
We’re here to help.
Travel advisor or travel agent?
Do you need a travel advisor? Or a travel agent? Or are they the same thing?
The term “travel agent” dates back to the 19th Century, when Thomas Cook organized his first rail trip for paying clients in 1845. By 1865 he had opened his first storefront—the world’s first travel agency—on Fleet Street in London.
It wasn’t long before travelers around the world were taking the firm’s advice: “Don’t just book it… Thomas Cook it.”
And for about 150 years or so, that’s mostly what travel agents did. They helped their clients book railway, steamship, and airline travel and hotel stays. And the best agents did a bit more than just sell tickets.
As travel became more complex, with ever-growing options and choices, the most resourceful travel agents discovered that their clients needed someone to create, organize, and deliver travel experiences that would be perfect for them individually.
Today, most travel agents prefer to be called “travel advisors,” reflecting the much higher levels of personalized service they deliver. In 2018, the American Society of Travel Agents rebranded itself as the American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA). Dive N Ride Adventures is a member of ASTA through our relationship with our host agency, Travel Planners International.
Nonetheless, many folks wanting help with travel planning will search for a travel agent. And the person they choose will probably be a travel advisor.
What does a travel advisor do?
So, what exactly does a travel advisor, or travel agent, do? And why would you use one?
Travel advisors are travel professionals. We are professional travelers. Think about that. No matter how much you personally travel for business or leisure, it’s not your full-time job. We’re experts at navigating complex paths to help you get the most out of your limited travel time and budget.
And the best travel advisors are also specialists. They know that they can’t be all things to all clients, so they don’t try to be.
Here at Dive N Ride Adventures, we specialize in adventure travel for scuba divers and motorcyclists. And we’re deeply committed to the LGBTQ community. If we drew a Venn diagram including divers, riders, and gay travelers, the overlapping sections would be pretty select groups of people.
But you might not know that we also love to eat well and enjoy fine wines, music, history, and cultural experiences. And that we try to build conservation and good stewardship of our world into our travels whenever possible. If you do, too, there’s a good chance the specialized experience and knowledge we’ve gained over many years will help us create a perfect trip for you.
A travel advisor is your advocate
Remember Thomas Cook? Unfortunately, the travel agency he founded, and its namesake airline, declared bankruptcy in September 2019. This left about 600,000 travelers stranded around the world, wondering what to do. The UK Civil Aviation Authority chartered 40 planes and made more than 1,000 flights to get 150,000 of them home to Britain. It was the largest peacetime repatriation in the history of the United Kingdom.
One of the most powerful reasons to use a travel advisor won’t be obvious—until something goes wrong. When a flight gets cancelled because of weather issues or technology malfunctions, or a destination becomes unsafe because of a natural disaster or civil unrest, a travel advisor will work hard to solve the problem and save your trip.
And because they work full time at managing travel for clients like you, they are in a much better position to find solutions, sometimes before you even learn about the problem. Think of your travel advisor in front of a big control panel, watching your trip unfold while you just enjoy yourself.
Imagine that your plane lands after a long flight. Checking your voicemail, you find a message from your travel advisor saying that a gas leak has forced your hotel to close temporarily. No worries! She has already found an alternate hotel, booked your room, managed your refund, informed your driver, and your car is waiting outside. And she has a massage scheduled for you when you arrive.
That’s what having a travel advisor on your team is like.
Travel advisors build and grow relationships
Successful travel advisors spend a lot of their energy building and growing relationships, with their clients, and with other travel professionals. And it’s those professional relationships that they can leverage for you.
You’re absolutely qualified to use an online booking service to get an overnight flight to Europe and a hotel in Paris. You’ve probably made similar reservations lots of times.
What happens when you arrive in the morning and the hotel says they will happily watch your luggage while you go walk around for a few hours, until your room is ready? That’s no way to start a trip.
When a travel advisor books your hotel we work with a dedicated person who only works with other travel professionals. Someone who can make sure that our clients get better service than people who booked their own trip online: the real VIP treatment. Those hotel employees work hard so that we will continue to trust them with our clients.
So when we tell them that you will arrive mid-morning after a long overnight flight you can bet your room will be ready for you.
How much time are you willing to spend trying to find that hotel in Paris? Five hours? Ten? Twenty? You could easily spend that, and more, and still not be sure that the place you found is clean, comfortable, convenient, or even safe.
When your travel advisor plans your stay, you can be certain that your hotel will do much more than meet your basic needs. Your advisor cannot take the risk of booking you in a sub-standard accommodation.
Chances are good that the hotel your travel advisor can find for you after a friendly conversation about your wants, needs, and your budget will be much nicer, and a better value, than what you could dig up with hours of online research.
Most travel advisors are members of larger professional travel networks. Because these travel networks represent tens of thousands of advisors, who in turn represent hundreds of thousands of clients, they are able to negotiate rates, upgrades, and bonuses that aren’t available to do-it-yourself travelers.
Larry Olmsted, NY Times Bestselling author and 25-plus-year travel journalist, wrote for Forbes in a 2020 article entitled, “5 Reasons Why You Need A Travel Agent:”
“One of the biggest shortcuts to freebies and extras is Virtuoso, a network of top tier travel agencies, most in the luxury realm. While agencies belonging to Virtuoso are independent and free to recommend and book anything they want – and often do because they have strong opinions – the network has specific relationships with over 1,800 travel partners (cruise, tours, airlines and 1,400 individual hotels in 100+ countries) with which it negotiates exclusive (and contractually obligated) benefits.
“[A]nyone who books through a Virtuoso agency gets automatic perks like complimentary daily breakfast, room upgrades, early check-in, late check-out, complimentary airport transfers, spa credits, and so on (specifics vary by hotel). According to Virtuoso, just the hotel benefits are valued at an average of over $500 per stay.”
Another place a good travel advisor can save you big money is on airfare. If you just plan to search for the “cheapest flight to Paris,” we probably can’t get you a lower price. But we can probably save you money on premium Business-class or First-class tickets.
Again, Larry Olmsted, in that same Forbes article, describes how he steered a tech-savvy friend to a trusted travel advisor who was able to find two First-class tickets to Hawaii for about $4,000 less than the best fare available online, by calling the airline, or through the American Express Platinum Card travel desk.
A travel advisor can open doors for you
Remember those professional relationships we talked about earlier? These are the most powerful tools your travel advisor has. They can be the keys to unlock doors that DIY travelers don’t even know about.
Another key aspect of what travel advisors do is access businesses that provide experiences you cannot find as just a consumer of travel services. There are many travel businesses that are only known in the business-to-business world, thereby guaranteeing their exclusivity.
When you want to move beyond a get-on-the-bus-and-listen-to-the-canned-tour experience, you need to plan your trip with a trusted advisor.
Some of the best destinations in the world are places you’ve probably not even heard about. And those special places are served by small, local tour guides, museum curators, cooking-school instructors, art historians, and other specialized experts who will never be on the radar of the general traveling public.
Here’s just one example: Are you familiar with Héroes del Mar? Probably not unless you have spent extensive time exploring remote Mexican fishing villages and getting to know the people there. Héroes del Mar is a small non-profit organization with the mission “to create the next generation of young people committed to conserving marine and coastal resources in the Sea of Cortez through education, ocean adventures, and personal growth.”
The founder of Héroes del Mar is our friend, Dora Sierra. She also happens to own and operate two liveaboard dive boats. One of those, the Quino el Guardian, is focused on supporting research and education through university and citizen science programs.
If you would like to learn more about Héroes del Mar and get involved in some Baja citizen science, consider joining us on a Sea of Cortez dive trip.
Choosing a travel advisor
A good travel advisor will be much more interested in strong relationships than mere transactions. So you will want to work with someone who takes the time to get to know you and understand your travel style.
Travelers who are gay, lesbian, bi, trans, queer, or otherwise aligned with the LGBTQ community will want to know that any travel advisor they work with respects them and understands their concerns. At Dive N Ride, this is one of our core values.
And consider the other professional organizations and companies your travel advisor works with. We are members of the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association, Tourism Cares, and the Greater Phoenix Equality Chamber of Commerce.
You can learn more about who we work with on our Partners Page.
And finally, if you think Dive N Ride Adventures might be your match as a travel advisor, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us.