Travel destinations, techniques and reviews targeted towards the baby boomer.

The Benefits of Working With a Professional Travel Advisor

Michele Broccardo - Sunday, June 16, 2013

Babybmrs Sits Down With a Professional Travel Advisor

Have you ever spent an entire Saturday morning researching an upcoming family vacation? Do you designate a family member with the responsibility of scouring the self-serve travel web sites looking for the best hotel and airfare deals? After a few hours and several frustrating phone calls, your hotel and airfare may be booked, but does this ensure a vacation experience everyone will remember? When you arrive at the airport what will you do if your flight is cancelled, or delayed? Have you ever been stranded in an unfamiliar city, bumped from your “confirmed” hotel? Do you feel like you spend more time planning the logistics of your vacation than actually enjoying your time away? 

We’ve all been in this situation, hence the idea for this week’s interview topic – Is there a need for a travel professional in this day of online travel services? We decided to have a chat with Mark Brown, travel professional and owner of Island Breeze Travel. Mark offered his insight into the travel professional business. We were pleasantly surprised with the high value of service a travel professional could bring when planning our next vacation.

Babybmrs:   Mark, thank you for taking the time to explain more about your business and what our experience would be like if we planned our vacation with a Professional Travel Advisor. In this day of 24-hour access to online booking and hotel web sites, please help our readers understand the value proposition of working with a travel professional versus an online discount site. 

Mr. Brown:   First, thank you for inviting me to share more about our business. You are correct, travelers are inundated with travel information from airline, hotel, and resort web sites. It’s an overload of generic travel information. Travelers often wonder whom they should trust or where they should go for trusted information. I feel the generic travel-related sites are missing one important factor – the human element. When you are gathered around your kitchen table on a Saturday morning, who will help you plan your perfect vacation? If you are using one of the generic sites, chances are no one is there to assist you.

When you engage a travel professional you will have a personal experience while planning your holiday. An experienced travel professional will act as your vacation advisor. He or she will be your personal concierge. A travel professional will brainstorm with you to understand more about you and your family or travel companions. They will ask the appropriate questions to help ensure a fun, worry-free, restful or activity packed, customized travel experience. As you build a relationship with your travel professional they will learn more about you and your family. Each vacation experience will become more personal and well suited for you. The individual generic sites are missing this human element.

Yes, anyone could easily research various sites and make air and lodging reservations, but generic sites will only satisfy your travel needs up to a certain point. For example, if you have questions while you are out of the country, or you need to make an unexpected change to your itinerary, whom will you call? If you are using the general sites, you will place phone calls to each company individually to reschedule or search for help. If you are working with a Travel Professional, you will place one phone call. A travel professional understands your vacation time is valuable.  You should not spend your limited time online trying to solve problems or research information. I am there with you from “door step to door step”. I would like to stress that an experienced travel professional is available for his customer around the clock. He or she will help you plan your entire vacation experience, including the activities around your trip. They will help you determine what activities are right for you, your family, or your travel companions. I help my clients create true vacation memories. This golden glove service is standard practice. 

A travel professional has a network of contacts around the globe. For example, one of the resorts I work with on a regular basis is Beaches Turks & Caicos. I talk on a daily basis with the resort’s management staff. I have an ongoing relationship with this resort. If one of my clients has a request while they are staying at Beaches they can send me their question or request and I will take care of it. This eliminates the time they would spend standing in line at the resort’s front desk or Concierge desk. I will personally contact the appropriate hotel staff or manager and satisfy the request. There is no waiting in line with other guests or lost vacation time for my customer. 

photo of Mark Brown, Kerri-Ann and Aide
Mark Brown (in the center) is joined on his right by Kerri-Ann, the front desk manager at the Italian Village, Beaches Turks & Caicos.  On Mark's left is Aide Arda, butler, Beaches Turks & Caicos Resort & Spa.
Another example I would like to share happened with a large group reservation on their way to an island resort. There was an unforeseen problem at the resort and the morning of their reservation, the resort had to completely close for several days. The Resort Manager personally called me early that morning. I contacted the individuals and notified them in advance of the situation. Unfortunately one of the group members planned on arriving before the others. He had already boarded his flight and could not be reached. I immediately contacted another resort within walking distance of the original destination and made arrangements for this guest to stay for the weekend. A staff member was waiting for him at the airport and brought him to the alternate location. He was treated like a king for the entire weekend. He returned in a few weeks with his group and enjoyed two wonderful experiences. This is why my network is invaluable. If things go wrong my contacts will help in every way possible. But, when things go right they are also there with special touches and personal attention. These small touches will make your vacation more memorable.

This individual service is especially helpful for a client that doesn’t travel often. They may not have the proper contacts, or familiarity with web sites or travel apps that an experienced traveler would have. The hotel staff and management team is extremely responsive to my requests because I have built a partnership with them over the years. When a customer is on vacation their time is precious. They should make the most of it. A skilled travel professional will take the vacation process off of your plate. 

Babybmrs: How are travel emergencies handled?

Mr. Brown:   The travel professional is your 24/7 contact during all emergencies. When my client is traveling my phone is on and available for my clients. I am ready to assist with any travel emergency.

Babybmrs:   Mark, I’m curious, how do you bill for your services? Will you charge the traveler a fee when they plan their vacation with you? Do you receive a commission from the hotel, resort, or airline? Where does your revenue come from? 

Mr. Brown:   Great question, but no, I do not charge my customer a fee for my services. There is not an additional fee for my services. The resorts and hotels pay a commission to my company when I make your reservation. In the past airlines also paid a commission, but they no longer offer this to the travel company. Some of the tour and excursion companies could also pay a commission. 

Regarding fees, no, I do not charge extra processing fees or booking fees. I might spend 30 minutes on a reservation, or several days on a group package. With either situation, my professional services are at no additional charge. I don’t charge cancellation fees either. I feel in the long run my business effort will balance itself out. I don’t feel extra fees are necessary. If you are doing business with my company there are no hidden costs. You can easily budget and plan for your trip – nothing is hidden. For an infrequent traveler this is a huge benefit. There usually isn’t a cost savings for the traveler if they are making reservations on his or her own. When making these plans on your own you lose your time and the assurance that your trip will go as planned. I would also point out that we also arrange business travel for individuals or groups. I enjoy making these reservations and don’t mind this type of business. 

Babybmrs:   When working with a travel professional, what should be considered relative to an advisor’s level of expertise? Does your industry have training or certification requirements for travel professionals? 

Mr. Brown:   Yes, I feel it is important that your Agent is professionally trained. I personally have advanced training. There are special schools for travel professionals. Travel agency organizations offer this. Certified Travel Agent (CTA) is one program offering. CLEA certification is available for the cruise industry. Yes, training is also VERY important. Certain resorts offer yearly certification or recurring certification programs for travel professionals. The resort requires travel professionals to attend their annual certification training program.  It is wise to ask your agent if they have visited your resort or hotel destination.

It is important to understand the Travel Professional business is a virtual business. Your travel professional could be working with you from any location around the World.   An experienced travel professional will also assist with your "off-property" entertainment.  For example, if you decide to use an outside service such as “scuba diving” your travel professional will confirm your reservation and make certain the dive instructor is certified. They will ensure legitimate businesses are used for your extracurricular activities. 

Babybmrs:   What is your opinion of Travel Insurance? Is this protection necessary?

Mr. Brown:   Murphy’s Law is alive and well, when traveling it is ten-fold. I could provide you with story after story to reaffirm the necessity for travel insurance. Yes, travel insurance is definitely a necessary investment. 

Babybmrs:   Now, let’s talk about cost savings and the best days to make a reservations. Are there seasonal travel times that will save money on airfare or hotels? Will flying on certain days of the week save money?

Mr. Brown:   Yes, for example, I specialize in warm and sunny tropical vacations. The high value time for this type of location is May 1 - November 15, which is considered their low season. If you schedule your holiday during low season you will save money. Their high season is normally when it’s cold here in the US. Family resorts tend to keep their prices higher in the early summer months because children are just beginning their break. From May until outside of Sept. 6th are their valuable prices. 

Regarding airfare prices; the best ticket prices are generally available from Monday PM through Tuesday AM. This is the timeframe that airlines offer their best prices because they are trying to sell their entire seat inventory. Purchasing tickets on the weekend is ALWAYS more expensive. A higher ticket price is usually not because of the actual day of the week you choose to fly, rather the day you choose to purchase your ticket. Please note, relative to travel logistics, the best travel days are generally Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Airport crowds are denser on a typical weekend. There are exceptions in this area, for example, Tuesday is the best travel day if you are traveling from the Midwest gateway. If you were in Utah, it might be a different day. I assure best prices are secured for your trip and I’ll offer suggestions to ensure your airport experience is streamlined. 

Babybmrs:   Do you prefer hotel and resort chains over boutique locations?

Mr. Brown:   I prefer any resort that offers an excellent line of communication with agents, plus they must have the amenities my client wants. Communication is my top priority! The hotel must have a constant line of communication available for the agent. This should not be a problem for any resort or hotel in this day of communication. 

Babybmrs:   Which US destination would you suggest for the “baby boomer” age group? 

Mr. Brown:   My decision would ultimately depend on the person. I would qualify the trip and plan a location around their personal style. A personal touch is always important. Key West and New Orleans are two US locations that are my favorites. They each offer a variety of options during the day or night. New Orleans is a fantastic city, many say the city comes alive at night. An evening walk overflows with restaurant choices ranging from traditional Cajun to five star French or Italian. Music and entertainment literally pour from the jazz clubs and bars out into the street. A fun-filled evening could easily evolve into an early sunrise walk back to your hotel with a stop for hot beignets along the way. 

Babybmrs:   Do you offer suggestions to prepare travelers for cultural differences when they travel outside of the US? 

Mr. Brown:   Yes, we include advice in this area. Let me offer an example of preparing a traveler before they arrived at their destination country. I recently had a client who was traveling to Negril, Jamaica for the first time. He heard there would be beach vendors selling items along the beach and he wanted to know how he should address the vendors. I explained vendors would most likely approach him on the beach to sell their wares. If he was not interested in buying the items he should acknowledge the person first, then simply decline the offer to buy their items. I explained it could be considered an insult in Jamaica to ignore someone when they greet you. The proper way to handle this is to offer a greeting, but decline the purchase. The vendor is shown a level of respect that is acceptable in their country, and they understand a purchase is not desired. Whenever possible I offer local tips or suggestions in advance of a trip.

Babybmrs:   Are you able to assist with a traveler’s requests if they have religious or culturally specific requirements? 

Mr. Brown:   Yes, let me share another example. One of my regular clients and his extended family were traveling to Turks and Caicos. He and his family are Jewish. They required kosher food choices and restaurants that could prepare their food in accordance with dietary laws: a kosher table (kosher wine, kosher chicken, etc.). I made their special food arrangements in advance with Colin Watson, the Executive Chef at Beaches Turks & Caicos. My customer also wanted to host a family dinner at Kimonos, the resort’s Japanese steak house. Chef Colin was able to make all necessary arrangements with both kitchens to accommodate the kosher meal preparations. The family was able to have worry-free meal experiences during their vacation.

Babybmrs:   What about cruise vacations? What are your thoughts in this area?

Mr. Brown:   I will arrange a cruise vacation, but I’ll be honest with you, I do not have a lot of passion for cruises. Some of the smaller ships are nice, the larger cruise ships do not offer the experience I look for in a vacation. My main concerns have to do with the customer’s time. Let me restate, your time is precious and valuable when you are on vacation. When you are on a cruise vacation, there is a significant amount of time lost sitting on a ship or waiting to get to the next port. The cruise staff does not offer the type of personal service I expect as a travel professional. When the ship is en route and between ports there isn’t easy access to the staff via cell, text or even e-mail. They don’t normally form the same type of business relationships with travel professionals the resort staff offers. 

photo of beach at Turks & Caicos

Voted the most beautiful beach of the Caribbean, Turks and Caicos.

Babybmrs:   What is your most memorable holiday location? Why is it special?

Mr. Brown:   Providenciales Turks & Caicos is my absolute favorite place. The Grace Bay area is breathtaking and the most peaceful place in the World. I recently had an opportunity to participate in a dive trip to West Caicos. We were diving 65 feet under and along a wall towards an abyss. While I was swimming a 4-5 foot reef shark swam right by me. It was a wonderful experience. The resort staff and management teams in Turks are wonderful, easy to work with, and fun-loving.  Every trip to Turks & Caicos delivers an experience you will never forget. 

Babybmrs:   Thank you Mark. This has been very helpful information. I look forward to talking with you again soon!

Mr. Brown:   Bon Voyage!

For additional vacation planning information, please contact Mark Brown directly at Island Breeze Travel.

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