Misconceptions of a Travel Agent

The following statements are NOT TRUE

  • You can do it cheaper on your own…

After working in Australia and New Zealand as a travel agent focussing on the backpacker, student and budget travel market, I have noticed a trend across the market of those “savvy” travellers who think they are cleverer than the average and that their travels will be much cheaper if they “do it on their own”. This is the first and probably the biggest misconception of booking through a travel agency, especially when travelling in these two well-trodden countries.

Both Australia and New Zealand are rife with exciting and unique activities that can only be experienced by paying lots of hard-earned cash. From scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef, white water rafting and hiking across glaciers, to adventure tours to Fraser Island, the Whitsunday Islands and other exotic locations. In almost every agency in Australia and New Zealand there will be special prices and discounts available for almost every activity across the country – even if it is not obvious, be brave, ask for a discount, at the end of the day each travel agent has a sales target and will much rather make the sale at a discounted rate than lose the sale completely.

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  • All travel agents are making commission off you…

I just mentioned that all travel agents work towards sales targets. These sales targets are not set in place to line the pockets of the agents, but are actually in place as guidelines to track performance and in the end, as an agent, if you don’t hit targets you get fired. This is the truth behind it, however it is often believed that these targets and sales figures come directly out of the pocket of the customer. This could not be further from the truth. I have lost count of how many times I have been asked, quite openly and usually in a slightly condescending manner, “so how much are you making off me today then…?”. Seriously, you’re not funny, and thinking about it, you are actually quite stupid.

I know it is not obvious to everyone who has not worked in a travel sales job before, but the money being made is not coming from the pocket of the customer, but actually from the pocket of the supplier – the company that is providing the activity, tour, accommodation, etc. For each booking made, there is a value/price assigned to that booking and the supplier will pay the travel agent a percentage of this value – this, believe it or not, is how travel agencies make money. Crazy isn’t it.

  • Travel agents know what they are talking about…

Now this is a very common misconception. The reason this perception has come about is that most travel agents are sales people and if they are any good at their job, they have mastered the art of “bullshitting”. Walk into a travel agency and ask them about an obscure country that you would like to visit… if the agent is worth the seat they are sitting on (I actually don’t have a seat at work as I have to stand for 8 – 10 hours per day!) they will more than likely come up with some random bullshit that sounds utterly believable (“Oh yeah amazing, my friend visited Uzbekistan last year and loved it, such great culture and scenery, blah blah blah”), all whilst Googling some correct information to provide you with as they begin their sales pitch.

I know people that have started working as a travel agent here in New Zealand that have never set foot outside of Auckland. Some fail emphatically at the role, but some soar to greatness, simply because they can bullshit their way through. It’s a talent that can take you far if you know how to use it.

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  • Online travel agencies are always cheaper…

Granted, online travel agencies have much lower overhead costs. No/less rent to pay, probably less staff wages to pay (in most cases it is probably just one lonely little troll sat behind a desk in a coffee shop somewhere), and making use of lots of free online services that make setting up an online business easier and easier. In lots of cases these online agencies have little or no credibility within the travel market. No credibility means no bargaining power or leverage, which means a lower commission percentage from the suppliers. This means one thing… in a price war, the larger agency with a shop front, credibility and bargaining power in the market will have a better commission rate from the suppliers, and will ALWAYS win.

  • Haggling is only for Indian markets…

Just because you left Asia and the confusing world of the tat markets behind before arriving in a strangely 1st world country like Australia and New Zealand, it does not mean you have stop your “is that you final price approach to things”. I mean don’t go walking into the supermarket and start haggling the price of a Mars Bar, but when it comes to travel agencies, why not bring back your bartering skills.

Due to the commission model of travel sales on this side of the world and the rules and regulations forbidding selling a product for more than the market retail price, there is always room for a little to and fro. At the end of the day the customer has the power. The agent wants/needs to make the sale, the customer can take it or leave it and always try another agency down the road. Just saying, be smart.

Happy travels!

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