General Travel, Travel Professional

How Does a Travel Agent Work?

Recently the American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA) changed their name from “agent” to “advisor” to better explain the changing role of a travel professional.  

We were working with new clients who came to us via referrals.  This was their first time utilizing a travel professional rather going online and booking their trip themselves.  They asked the question of how we work. More than once we’ve heard this question, “How does it work to use your services?”  So we thought we would explain.  

We have the process nicely laid out here on our website which you can read over by clicking ​What We Do. 

However, what people are really asking is… how do you get paid?  Do I pay you?  If so how much? 

Travel professionals work similarly to a Real Estate Agent.

  • We ask about your needs, desires, budget, and location (qualifying)
  • We offer the best fitting options available for your criteria
  • We are looking out for your best interest with expert advice
  • We handle all the details and paperwork of the transaction
  • We are available for any concerns that may arise during the process
  • We work with reputable suppliers for different aspects of the process
  • You can DIY your endeavor (vacation or sell your home) or you can use a professional

With that said, Travel professionals work on commission paid to them by the supplier or vendor (travel company) where we book your travel.  This commission is already factored into the price for that product. So you’re not paying extra than you would if you booked it directly with the travel company.

Therefore, if you are going online to book your travel then you are paying the same price as booking with a travel advisor, however you are doing all the work and assume all the responsibility. Which, of course, is entirely your choice.

There are many travel advisers who do charge a service fee, or a “plan to go” fee, and why not? They are offering their time, talents, and expert advice to the potential client. See more on this thought below.

The percentage of commission depends on the volume of travel made with each supplier.  Similar to the Real Estate Agent, the person selling the home (or vacation in this case) is the one who pays the agent commission.  

The travel agency doesn’t receive commission until the client has traveled. So, that means the agent can work your reservation for several months, sometimes over a year, without compensation. If you cancel at the last minute then there is zero compensation… unless the travel agency charges a cancellation fee.

Why would a travel supplier (like themeparks, cruise lines, resorts, hotels, etc.) pay a commission to a travel advisor to handle your reservation? Why does any company have a sales force?  To bring in more sales of course!  (Not every travel component pays a commission to travel agents.)

If you own a company and you know you can’t possible handle each and every sale with a standard of quality, then you are going to hire an outside source.  But rather than have thousands of agents on payroll there is a partnership that is created.  And, each supplier has a travel advisor training program that one must complete in order to sell travel with that supplier.  It’s exhausting the amount of training involved.

Like a Real Estate Agent a travel professional needs a business license and have a seller of travel ID in order to work with any travel company.

Photo by Richard Balog on Unsplash

History of the Travel Professional
​Once upon a time before the internet there was a line of clients at the door of every travel agency. True Story. When the airlines stopped paying commissions to travel agencies then the dynamics changed.  Along with the internet came email and online brochures.  No longer was it necessary to have a brick and mortar storefront, though many still do, and the home-office travel professional became more of a reality. 

So, why did ASTA change the name from “agent” to “advisor”?  Because today’s travel professional is not an order taker.  And an advisor is someone to advises. [Advisor and adviser are the same meaning with different spellings.  Advisor is Latin based while adviser is Germanic based.]  The term advisor more closely represents the relationship of consumer to travel professional.  You tell us your desires and we go out and find the match.  An order taker is you choose from what we offer.  

What about fees?
Many travel pros DO charge a service fee, or perhaps a plan-to-go fee.  They are providing a service so they are more than welcome to charge a fee for their services. 

Many service based industries charge a service fee. Think about a plumber, mechanic, electrician, etc. who charge a fee for the service call – just to see what the issue may be. I once phoned a real estate attorney to ask a few questions about hiring him to close on a house we were selling. That 15 min phone call resulted in a bill in the mail for his time, and I hadn’t even hired him at that point!

Much of the development of service fees has happened due to consumers who don’t understand how a travel professional works and the amount of time spent building an itinerary.

There’s nothing worse for a travel agent/advisor than to spend their quality time developing a quote and itinerary and have the potential client book online themselves after taking the advise and hard work of the travel professional.

You would never say to a service based business, “Tell me exactly how to do ______”, then take that information and give the reward for that work to another business offering the same products. Which is exactly what you do when you ask a travel advisor for a quote or itinerary, and then, go online to book your trip – making their hard work and time spent invalid. This has led many travel agencies to establish charging a fee.

I hope this has helped you understand how a travel professional works… for now.  I am sure with our ever-changing world and technology that it will develop and grow accordingly.  
Until next time…

3 thoughts on “How Does a Travel Agent Work?”

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