Travel Agent Day: What Does It Mean To Be A Travel Agent in 2018?
By Vickie Sam Paget
Ethel Hansen Davey
Happy Travel Agent Day! To mark this special occasion, Open Jaw spoke to agents from across the country to find out about the trials and triumphs of being a travel agent in 2018
Troublesome technology… know-it-all clients… ever-changing demographics… The landscape today’s travel agent has to navigate on a day-to-day basis can be trying, to say the least. But it can also be exceptionally rewarding.
Just ask Ethel Hansen Davey of Uniglobe Enterprise Ltd. in Toronto, a travel consultant since 1998.
“I’ve worked well past my retirement age and I do it because I like it and it offers me opportunities I wouldn’t have if I wasn’t in the business,” she enthused.
Davey cites keeping up with the latest travel trends as one of the best ways to stay a step ahead in this business – and during her a 20-year career, she’s seen a lot of trends come and go.
“Things have changed considerably. There really is no such thing as a ‘walk-in’ these days, so the thing is to really look after the clients you do have and reach out to them for referrals. Today it’s a whole different way of doing business.”
She has also seen plenty of changes when it comes to the technology available at a travel agent’s fingertips – something that has proved to be both a help and a hindrance during her career.
“Technology is making it easier insofar as you can send quotes out from the tour operator’s system. However, the difficulty is that we’re inundated with new technology all the time.”
Across the country in Burnaby, BC, Centre Holiday’s Ami Hisanaga, a five-year travel advisor, said that one of the biggest changes she’s noticed has been the industry’s attitude towards home-based agents.
“Being a home-based agent wasn’t as well received when I started out,” she explained, “But now agencies and tour operators are realizing their importance.”
One thing that has changed for all of the agents we spoke to is client demographics. They revealed that one of their great pleasures is seeing their client base blossom and evolve with their businesses.
Just ask Teresa Gogan, branch manager at The Travel Store in Amherst, Nova Scotia, an advisor since 1998.
“I have a lot of senior clients. I had one who lost her ticket one time, back when you had paper tickets, so I got to the point where I didn’t give her her ticket -- I would stand at the end of her driveway and pass it to her as she left for the airport. And you know what? Now I book her children and her children’s children.”
It’s a pattern that Penny DeRuyter, travel service consultant at BonVoyage Travel and Cruises in Delta, BC, has also observed.
“For me, my clients are a true mix,” explained DeRuyter, who’s been a travel agent for 20 years. “I have the parents, but I also have the adult children, so my demographics are very wide.”
Hisanaga in Burnaby reported seeing a similar pattern emerge over her five-year career: “When I started out my clients were all budget-oriented, but as people go through their careers, you see their travel needs change.”
Which brings us to the ‘M’ word – millennials – and how their thirst for travel is shaping the industry.
“Millennials are much more confident in doing more adventurous things,” enthused Davey in Toronto. “That they’re not always just looking for an all-inclusive resort suits me just fine. They’re looking for something that challenges them.”
This shift from all-inclusives to FIT trips is also one of the biggest changes that DeRuyter in Delta has observed during her career.
“More people are tired of the all-inclusives and they want to do something more unique,” she explained. “If a client wants to have 14 days in Europe they can get overwhelmed when they start researching. By putting together a package that’s a little bit different for them – the value of a travel agent is clear right there.”
Expert first-hand knowledge is perhaps the shining beacon of a travel agent’s skills and strengths in 2018 – in an age when clients often over-research on the internet.
“They may have done their research, but if they haven’t put boots on the ground there, they don’t know what to expect,” said Davey. “A seasoned travel agent who’s done a lot of travelling can give them that input.”
Hisanaga in Burnaby says she believes the travelling public are beginning to recognize the strengths of the travel agent, despite the information that’s available on the internet: “People can think that they are the experts of everything. They’re even questioning doctors about their diagnosis because they’ve read something online!” she said.
“They think they know everything because of the technology they have, but the travel agent can provide them with more. People are starting to realize that.”
Happily, this growing confidence in the role of the travel agent was echoed across the country.
“I think that people are turning more to the expertise of a travel agent,” said Davey. “People have noticed that it’s very easy to make a mistake when doing their own bookings. It’s better to book with me, and then if something goes wrong, at least you have someone to yell at!”
Nova Scotia’s Gogan, who prides herself on the personal level of service she provides as a travel agent, couldn’t agree more: “We are always going to be needed. I can’t go anywhere in this small town!” she laughed. “Sometimes I put my hair up in a hat and put dark glasses on to go get my groceries! That’s because for me selling travel is personal -- I’ve made it personal.”
Vickie Sam Paget Western Correspondent
Hailing from the UK, Vickie Sam Paget is a travel and tourism storyteller located in Vancouver, BC. When she’s not on the road, creating engaging travel content or gazing at the North Shore Mountains, you can usually find her curled up with a good book or sipping a pint of the good stuff in her local Irish bar.