Last week the team at Karibu met to discuss this question with some unexpected results!
In this article we explore the self-booking online phenomenon that so many customers are now considering after the massive increase of online presence we have seen in Tanzania in recent years. Technology is moving the world forwards, there is no doubt about that. Mobile handheld technology gives users access to a plethora of options at their fingertips. So why would anyone still use the conventional method of booking with a travel agent? To answer this, let’s dive into the pros and cons of booking online and share some of the experiences we have accumulated in the 53 years in this business.
First, we listed the benefits of booking online and then we addressed each one to truly recognize it’s comparative equivalent when booking with a travel agent.
Common Reasons to Book Your Travels Online
- Instant results and last minute bookings
- Options and filters to broaden your search
- Special offers exclusive to online engines
- Like minded customer reviews
- Accessibility on mobile platforms for on-the-go booking
The veteran traveler will know exactly where they want to go and what they expect when they get there. This must be the case because most online booking methods are limited when it comes to flexibility and payment options. There is no doubt that in a world of instant messaging, instant cab-hailing, instant money-transfers, instant same-day-delivery, instant coffee and instant… okay you get the point. In a world where everything is expected to happen instantly, people will see great benefit in going online to meet their travel needs. So why use a travel agent? To answer that, we must explore how the conventional method compares to the instant online booking method whilst addressing the points above.
So Why Should You Use a Travel Agent?
1. Personal Touch: You Aren’t Just a Statistic
Sure, when you log into booking.com it will load all you previously loaded credentials and online preferences, and even your most recent searches. But will it recognize that your trip falls within your anniversary and upgrade your room? When people start using a travel consultant, they create a personal bond whereby the consultant is taking responsibility for your trip. Transferring accountability to someone with more experience and resources is not a bad thing! Booking a honeymoon? Let your consultant know and you’ll be surprised to find that your room has been upgraded, you are met with a complimentary fruit basket and bottle of bubbly on arrival to your room and even a personalized anniversary cake on your flight!
2. Flight and hotel Pricing Magic
Airlines use an algorithm for pricing their flights that would leave Einstein scratching his head in confusion. The complexity with which flight prices fluctuate are mind boggling and take into consideration countless variables like season, availability, booking trends, promotional offers, reserved seats for VIP’s, wheelchair access, missionaries, diplomats, and the list goes on. Although online your options are limited to economy, business class or first class fares, travel consultants have access to sub classes. For example, Emirates uses sub classes J,C,I and O for Business Class. Each letter has a different price and they tend to open and close the seats on a whim. A travel agent can tell you how many seats are available under each sub class and which ones are currently cheaper. They can also make informed decisions to the traveler like outlining which sub classes are flexible allowing changes and which ones are fixed and non-changeable. Most flights booked on online aggregator websites fall into the latter whereby if you miss your flight, you can kiss your refund goodbye. A travel agent can also suggest flying on a different day when the sub class is available so you make small changes to your trip but bring about big savings!
Also, when you book online you are required to process a payment to secure your seat. With a travel agent, they can hold the seat for as long as a week sometimes depending on the carrier. This is a massive benefit in booking with a travel agent as we can hold a seat and a price for you whilst you make the decision to issue the ticket or make changes.
There is also that other part where you save money. Believe it or not booking with a travel agent will save you more money compared to booking online. How? you ask, of course there is that extra fee charge for the travel agent services but using this service can help you score a great deal on packages or promotions and you may even end up paying less compared to the original price ratings of a hotel room or a flight ticket.
3. Don’t Set Yourself up for Disaster
When you decide it’s time to take your family on vacation you face the daunting task of putting all the elements of your trip together into a neat, flowing package. Online, you can book your flight, hotel and even a transfer that will facilitate the basic logistics of your vacation. But online systems will seldom recognize that an 8 hour layover with 3 children can be the subject matter for a disaster Hollywood blockbuster starring Chris Rock.
When you use a travel agent, the services that they package together have been tried and tested. They tailor the trip based on the requirement of the travelers, so if you have 3 kids, they will suggest a layover for the night and avoid the aforementioned disaster. The one size fits all model that you get from booking online works very well for seasoned travelers who are perhaps repeating the same trip. But if you start drifting into uncharted waters, you want to have a skipper that knows his/her way around the tide and who knows how to swim when the ship hits the fan.
4. Added Value to your Trip
Next time you check the price for a hotel online and the travel agent is able to match the price, take very close note of the meal plan. More often than not, online booking tools will just provide the room with no meal plan and the travel agent will provide the same room but including breakfast at the same price. Travel Agents work with many vendors directly and can call in favors that will surprise even the seasoned traveler. This includes room upgrades, flexible check in/check out times, facilities for infants or even complimentary transfers to the airport.
5. Informed Choices
So you’re a savvy techy with a penchant for putting together your own travels online? That’s great! But what happens when you book your trip to South Africa online and didn’t realize that you need a birth certificate for your child to enter the country? Or you’re a clever cogs and kept a copy on hand, but are told by immigration it needs to be an original! How about the fact that you’re with your kid on a father-son bonding trip just to be told that you need a no objection letter from his mother. Immigration will not provide any instant online solutions, except to send you back home on the first flight back with a sad kid whose only dream in life was to see the world from the Table Mountain.
Travel Agents have been through it all. When an inquiry like this comes in, they are trained to ensure you are making informed choices about your trip.
Also, when searching through the internet it may get a bit tricky and confusing especially when you don’t have a fixed idea on what you actually want to do on your next trip. Perhaps you want to go on a safari with the kids but you are not really certain about the best packages and safety precautions when travelling with young ones. That is where a travel agent can help, they have more experience hence they can make recommendations and plan trips that meet your needs and budget.
6. Would you Bungee Without the Cord?
This is exactly what you do when you book online. You are headed for a one way, no refund, no complaints experiment of a trip. Online companies often use call centers in the Philippines or India that will take your call (after an hour of the most annoying on-hold tunes in the world). “If you have a reservation dial 1, if you are making a new reservation dial 2…”, there’s never a “if we totally messed up your trip and you’re totally stranded dial 3“.
At Karibu World, we make sure a Homo Sapien is on your case. That level of a safety net is incomparable to any online solution. We answer calls 24/7 and we follow up to ensure you got on that flight, got the room change you wanted, or were able to book that last minute tour. So much can happen when you’re in a new environment, God forbid you get stranded with no access to Wifi. But when booking with a travel agent, we are informed by the flight if you missed it, by the hotel if you didn’t get there, by the tour operator if you were supposed to be at the meeting point. Basically if you cease to exist, your online booking will simply expire, whereas a travel agent will be notified and try to reach you and your family.
Don’t get me wrong you can research as much as you want but then call a travel agent and let them make the arrangements for you. Their expertise will save both your time, money and from any miscommunication or service accidents. Oh and to add the icing on the cake, you can totally geek out with your travel agent about your trip and how you can both customize it to fit to your personal needs, imagine you are a big fan of gemstones and you get the chance to speak to a geologist or an experienced jeweler, you’re guaranteed to have the most bomb conversation ever!
To Summarize, When you Book with a Travel Agent You Ensure:
- A Personal touch
- More options, especially for domestic flights
- Customized packages for local and international hotels and tours
- A safety net of having a travel agent always working on your behalf in case of flight cancellation, change of schedule, ticket fee reimbursement, lost luggage, and etc…
- 24/7 customer service accessibility with a human
- Experienced consultants that make sure you’re making the right choices
- Handling complicated itineraries with multiple legs is easy and cost effective when using a travel agent
- Travel agent has access to private, special, and time based fares that are not visible online
- Increased value for the same booking price
- A Travel Agent that can manage a large group by coordinating the logistics
So Which is Right for You? Online or Travel Agent?
For many travelers there is a factor of excitement in planning your own trip. Viewing all the millions of hotels online and reading reviews gives the traveler the essence of being in control of your experience. Having the prices presented to you instantaneously is a major advantage that many will consider the deal maker for booking online. But why is it that whenever you spend an hour browsing the menu before you order, when the food arrives you always wish you ordered what the table next to you is having? Making informed decisions is key when planning a trip, not just because travel is expensive, but the this is time that you will never get back. You don’t get a mulligan for a holiday and there’re no undo button. So when you are deciding to book online or book with a travel agent, keep in mind that the fate of your trip is going to be at stake. Either everything will go smoothly without a hitch and that online booking will save you a couple of $$, or the most minute detail will not be addressed online and without a travel agent supporting you, the holiday will come at a much higher cost. It’s your call!