Expert Advice: Why You Should Book a Trip with a Travel Advisor
About the interviewee: Martha Merle
Martha is a global travel advisor who specializes in customizing trips to your liking. Her platinum “concierge” service is worth it at many different levels.
How did you get into the Travel industry?
Curating luxury travel was a career change for me several years ago. Previously I worked in Sports Marketing for various professional leagues and teams. But that work was always in a client-facing sponsorship role with service and hospitality aspects, so it actually had similarities to the work I’m doing now. As I began to think about the long-term, and wanting something that would be more flexible as I started a family, I began to learn more about Travel Advisors. I had a good friend on the hotel side of the business who introduced me to various other agents and educated me about the industry. When my now-husband and I began to think about our honeymoon, I decided to use a Travel Advisor to plan it. That really sealed it for me - being able to experience first-hand the value agents provide, and to have been sent on the most incredible honeymoon as a result (New Zealand), helped me to realize how fun it would be to craft similar experiences for others. From there, I attended “Virtuoso Travel Week”, the largest annual gathering of luxury travel professionals, and met with several agencies to discuss possible job opportunities. I found one that I felt was a great fit, and the rest was history.
How would you say the travel industry has changed the last few years?
I would say that the volume of travel sites and information in the travel industry just keeps increasing, which is actually driving more and more high-end travelers to seek professional help. Every time you turn around there is a new Online Travel Agency (the “expedias” of the world), or another person telling you to book this way or book that way. There is such an overabundance of information online that I honestly don’t know how you could ever know where to start or what information to trust. So I think the awareness of Travel Advisors, and the value customers see in using them, has only increased as a result.
The “Travel Agent” of the past, who was mostly a booking agent and an order-taker, has become a sophisticated consultant, (now preferring to be called a “Travel Advisor”), whose goal is to get to know you as well as possible, to individually customize the trips of your dreams, and to ideally form a long-term personal relationship.
Can you please comment on the stereotypical view that many has to “why does travel advisors still exist with today’s technology"?
There are plenty of things you can do yourself, yet people still hire professionals in order to get the job done in the best way. You may hire a decorator, an accountant, or a personal trainer, for example, so why wouldn’t you hire a Travel Advisor? In today’s busy world, your leisure time is your most valuable non-renewable asset (in my opinion), so it makes sense to let an expert help plan your vacation. Leave nothing to chance and ensure you get the best possible return on your investment.
There is simply too much information out there today. A Travel Advisor helps makes sense of it all and also provides a safety net should anything go wrong or not be to your liking. Some travelers enjoy doing the research themselves - it’s part of the excitement and build-up - and I certainly understand that. It’s important to know that the process can absolutely be collaborative.
Think of your Travel Advisor like a very well-traveled friend who is there to bounce questions off of, and who in the end can complete the booking process for you while securing the best rates and amenities available.
Can you please explain the top reasons a traveler should book their trip via a travel advisor instead than online?
It doesn’t cost you anything extra! Most quality agents will charge a small planning fee for their time, but that money is quickly recouped by the perks received. It may be tangible, like daily breakfast, a hotel credit, or a room upgrade, or more subtle like a welcome amenity in your room, the hotel finding a room when they are showing sold-out, or hand-selecting the best room for you. While perks and pricing discounts will vary, in the end you’re absolutely better off for having booked through an agent. Not only will you be in the same position or better financially, but you will also save time by avoiding endless webpages, hold times, and administration. And once you have an Advisor that you like, stick with them; the fact that they have all of your personal information on record and that they’ve learned your likes and dislikes saves a great amount of time and effort.
VIP Treatment: An agent represents repeat business. At any particular hotel, my agency might book hundreds of room nights per year, and Virtuoso (the luxury travel consortia that we’re a part of) might book thousands. So a hotel is going to go out of its way to upgrade your room and extend other VIP considerations a lot quicker than they would to the average customer who may only stay there once in their life. Furthermore, you can’t “VIP” yourself. The benefit of having someone to tell the hotel that it’s your special occasion, what kind of wine you like, and other particulars about you, is invaluable; it’s just not the same coming from you!
Safety Net: Even when using a Travel Advisor, things can go wrong for reasons outside of their control. But at least if problems arise, an Advisor has the right contacts to get them quickly resolved (and they are more likely to get them resolved given the volume of business and relationships at stake). I’ve gotten money back for clients, rooms relocated at a moment’s notice, and flight rebooked before the client’s delayed flight/missed connection even touched the ground. Your Advisor is always looking out for you and is many many steps ahead!
If there are any changes to a trip booked with a travel advisor ( ex. flight cancellations / delays), how will the traveler be notified?
It depends on the specific relationship you’ve developed with your Advisor and what works best for you but typically you are in regular contact with your Advisor by phone. We are always available! And to even better service the needs of our clients we will often work with one of our Virtuoso partners in the traveler’s destination so that there is someone right there in their time zone checking in throughout the trip and troubleshooting things like this (because things can go wrong on even the most meticulously planned trip).
If a traveler needs to change their booking made with a travel advisor, do they contact the travel advisor or the airline they are booked with?
Everything goes through the Travel Advisor. Not having to deal with Reservations people or waiting on hold is a priceless benefit in my opinion!
Where is your favorite place you have been to?
Very tough question because I think any trip depends on the mindset you’re in and what you were looking for out of that particular trip. However, I would have to say that Nepal has a very special place in my heart. I have been a couple of times, and most recently it was right before their devastating earthquake. The Nepali people are incredibly welcoming and resilient and it’s just a phenomenal destination for the adventurous traveler.
What are your personal top 3 recommendations for someone who is going on a long-haul flight with kids?
Plan ahead: This may go without saying but think through the trip in detail and make sure you plan ahead, because once you’re up at 30,000 ft., you’re out of luck. Make sure you have the necessary supplies like extra food, extra clothes and extra diapers! Make sure iPad apps and movies are fully loaded -- you’ll be in a tough spot trying to get anything downloaded with onboard wifi. Know the length of the flight and plan out when they’ll do certain things like nap, eat, or when you’ll pull out new or exciting toys you’ve packed for the trip.
Use the galley: A more specific tip – for the littlest travelers, I’ve always found the airline galleys to be my best friend. I’ll try to time it so that a little one is ready for a nap at about the time that the flight attendants do their service. So once it’s empty I scoot back there as quickly as I can, put my child in the Ergo carrier with his/her head covered, and proceed to rock/bounce them to sleep as quickly as I can. There’s more space to move around, it’s somewhat private and sometimes dark, and if the child’s crying you’re a little out of the way from other passengers. Once in a while you’ll get flight attendants that don’t love you being back there, or sometimes unfortunately the seat-belt sign will come on, but more often than not I find there are compassionate and understanding flight attendants who understand how desperately you need to get that kid sleeping asap!
Pack enough but not too much: I often travel on my own with my little ones and so I find it important to strike that balance between packing too much vs. too little. You want to be prepared and we all know children have a lot of gear, but think about the logistics of carrying it all through the airport. Do you have any help? I’d rather save the trouble of finding and then loading/unloading a luggage cart if possible. Getting on and off of a plane is immensely more difficult when you’re loaded down with bags, and I find that the times I’ve lost something on a plane (nightmare!) is because I have too much stuff and am frazzled. We never travel with car seats (we’ve always used car service or rental car carseats) and I’ll often use an Ergo baby carrier in place of a stroller. The quicker and more efficiently I can get through airports and on/ off planes, the better!