In this digital age, it is becoming easier and sometimes it appears cheaper to buy things, reserve flights or hotels on the internet. It is almost impossible nowadays to consult a travel site and not to be prompted with the opportunity to book a hotel, right there, on the spur of the moment. And then, a couple days later or on a different Google search, the same travel site will show you a message asking if you are still interested in visiting such and such city. Most of the time, digital solutions lack the human touch that makes a trip seamless, all arrangements flowing naturally. Once the reservation and payment are made, you have no way of adjusting the elements of your trip and then, it becomes a nightmare. You will spend precious vacation time trying to fix the logistics and probably end up paying more than if you had experts arrange it for you in the first place. It important however to differentiate between web platforms that connect potential clients with reputable tour operators in the proposed country of visit and those online search engines who just list flights or properties and offer them for sale at discounted rates. Big difference !
Having your precious vacation arranged by a team of experts has numerous advantages. First and foremost, you have the benefit of the human touch. Travelling with a national tour guide who will take care of all technical aspects of your trip(paperwork and reconfirmations), who will feel when you are getting templed out and need a tea break, who will tell you about the architecture, art forms and local lore, who might take you to his or her favorite spot in the city or to visit their family. These interactions are what make a trip interesting and rewarding. When you don’t just run and tick sites on the list but enjoy a personal experience with someone who will explain what you see and why it is actually worth seeing.
CAVEAT EMPTOR is always the rule to follow in such circumstances. In travel, a myriad of things can go wrong. Flight delayed or canceled, hotel over-booked, floods and other natural calamities preventing access or simply illness can easily derail a vacation.
Last week, I was called by a hotel to retrieve some clothes that had been forgotten by clients in a room. Swiftly, we picked up the clothes and arranged for the parcel to be sent to the next destination hotel the clients were staying at.
Would an online travel agency have done that ? I don’t think so !
On the same week, a violent cyclone ravaged Honk Kong and hundreds of flights were cancelled. A quick check on FlightStats showed the flight our clients were on had been canceled. Immediately, our operations team sprang into action. Contacting the client before they made their way to the airport, changing the hotel reservations to reflect the new reality, both at the origin and at the flight’s destination, reorganizing the order of visits including car and guide reassignment, all these details are essential.
Would an online agency have done all these quick and impromptu adjustments ?
You arrive at destination after a long haul flight and as every passenger on this flight, you assemble at the corresponding baggage carousel only to find out that your baggage is missing. It may be on the next flight tomorrow or may not ! With nothing but your carry-on small backpack, you start your vacation. The staff of the incoming tour operator will retrieve your luggage, when it shows up, and send it to the next city on your tour program. Would an online travel agent do that for you?
You fly into Yangon and as you heard that visas can be arranged on arrival, you realize that it’s an old rule and that tourists cannot anymore avail themselves to that convenient service. You are forced back on the plane, back to Beijing as the China Airlines flight has a stopover in Beijing. No luck, you don’t have a visa for China. Immediate first departing flight to Hong Kong where you’ll be able to procure the correct visa, 2 days later. In the meantime, our operations department has arranged alternating domestic flights and corrected rooming lists so that you can join your tour, 3 days late.
Again, would an online travel agent do that for you?
In conclusion, it is also good to remember that if you choose to deal with a local tour operator, your money will benefit a larger group of people, tour operator’s staff, local guides and drivers and thus become a vector of social and economic development for the visited areas rather than enriching a large multinational corporation or some geek whose whole office is housed in a laptop.