Ed: Dec/Jan 2012/3

Summer is approaching, or so we’re led to believe. What plans are you making for the upcoming holiday season? I always find the planning of a forthcoming trip so much fun. There’s the research you can carry out yourself on the internet, the advice of friends and family to take onboard, the brochures and pamphlets you may have gathered at travel expos and, of course, there’s your trusted travel agent.

Many of those I speak to seem to place the travel agent on the back burner these days. They mistakenly believe that there’s just no place for them in today’s “connected” world. While it’s true that most airfares can be booked online, often at a slight discount, as can most hotels, the difficulty can arise with stopovers, hotels in out-of-the-way locations or multi-leg journeys.

If you aren’t able to get a direct flight to your destination, you can often spend hours online trying to tie up the arrival of a flight on one airline with a suitable departure time on a domestic or other international airline. It can be a highly frustrating experience – one your travel agent can sort for you in an instant.

Another drama often arises in the accommodation sector. Unless you’ve had firsthand recommendations of a resort, or you perhaps know the brand through using them in another location, why would you want to rely on a brochure or website? Yes, sites like Trip Adviser can give you real feedback from other travellers, so you’re likely to spot a potential problem hotel or resort a mile off. But what those sites can’t tell you is whether the hotel has perhaps undergone a management change, had a major refurbishment in recent months or has added facilities and amenities that others found lacking.

Travel agents spend a good deal of their time being updated on airline schedules, accommodation updates, security issues and the like. Their role is highly justified, even in this age of connectivity.

The property may boast a Kids’ Club – but is it reliable and well staffed? The phrase “close to the beach” has often been known to be anything up to a 10-minute walk away from the nearest white sand. Sure, there may be two restaurants on site, but are the meals edible and reasonably priced? While there’s air conditioning in every room, perhaps your travel agent knows that it’s old and sounds like a train’s running along your balcony. A “sea view” has been known to have all sorts of interpretations.

The adventurer in us will often just wing it, backpacking kids, taking a punt on air schedules, bus trips and places just to lay their heads for an evening. The Kiwi-Can-Do mindset kicks in. However, if like the majority of people, this is your one holiday of the year, and you’ve saved wisely to make the most of it, you don’t want your dreams shattered due to missed connections or dodgy beds in grubby hotels.

Take the stress out of your holiday plans this year and at least have an informative chat with your local travel agent. You’ll be surprised at the depth of information they have at their fingertips!
Wherever you venture this summer, have fun and be safe.

“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveller is unaware.” — Martin Buber (1878 – 1965)

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