Posted on 05/20/2019
Shivani Vora, CNN • Published 20th May 2019
(CNN) — Who says travel agents are obsolete?
At a time when travel booking sites and apps are a dime a dozen, and travelers can plan an entire trip without speaking to a real person, travel professionals are actually in high demand.
Just don't call them agents -- today, the industry title for these planning professional is advisors. And the stance on this is official: The American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA) was called the American Society of Travel Agents until it changed its name last year.
"Travel agents have become trusted advisors, akin to financial advisors, who make the overall travel experience better and get travelers maximum value for their travel dollar," says the organization's spokeswoman, Erika Richter. "That's why we rebranded ourselves."
As travelers discover the incomparable benefit of working with a professional, business for three of the biggest travel advisor networks is booming.
At the Alohilani Resort in Waikiki, for example, guests receive breakfast, early check-in and late checkout by booking through Travel Leaders Network.
Courtesy of Alohilani
Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst and the founder of Atmosphere Research Group, confirms travel advisors are alive and well. Harteveldt's job involves looking at the role of online travel bookings and understanding how travelers are making travel arrangements.
Unlike the past when advisors traditionally worked out of a brick-and-mortar strorefront and had mostly local clients, today's advisors are more likely to work virtually and have clients all over the world.
Harteveldt believes there are many perks to using a travel advisor. For one, while there's no denying that online booking sites often offer unbeatable deals, travel advisors can typically find great deals, too.
Plus, they'll leverage their relationships with hotels and cruise lines to arrange for amenities that you can't get if you book on your own.
A real-life example of this: A search of online travel sites for a three-night refundable stay this October at Le Royal Monceau, in Paris, one of the city's most luxurious hotels, turned up an average price of $930 a night without any additional amenities such as breakfast.
Using a booking agent such as Skylark to book a stay at Paris' Le Royal Monceau often means a solid deal and plenty of amenities.
Courtesy Le Royal Monceau Raffles Paris
Now, a la carte breakfast at the hotel can easily run more than $100 for two people. Times that by number of days of your vacation, and that's a lot of money on coffee and croissants.
Skylark, a luxury travel advisory part of the Virtuoso network, was able to get a nightly rate of $832 at the hotel for the same dates.
But that's not all: Travelers who booked their stay through Skylark would receive a guaranteed room upgrade at the time of booking, daily breakfast, a sizable welcome amenity such as a bottle of champagne, $100 food and beverage credit and a late 4 p.m. check-out.
Skylark's CEO and co-founder, Paul Tumpowsky, estimates about $400 worth of freebies in this booking.
Help on the way
The other big advantage of using an advisor, according to Harteveldt, is that they have your back if anything goes wrong during the trip.
Imagine you're in London on vacation, and just as you're getting ready to go to the airport to head back home after a fantastic few days, you get word that your nonstop flight has been canceled.
There's a mechanical issue with the plane, and you've been instructed to call the airline to rebook your return. You could spend hours dealing with the hassle, or you could simply enjoy a leisurely afternoon tea in London while your advisor handles the situation behind the scenes.