Many traditional travel agents I meet talk about the “old days.” The days when they got big commissions from the airlines, the days when agencies supported themselves on the commission system. Of course, those days are long gone. It’s a challenging new world for travel agents, and many of the storefront agencies have been shuttered.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom for travel agents. The smart ones have survived and in many cases, have thrived. How do they do this? Simple answer—they charge fees.
Call them what you want, but in our agency, we have travel design/management fees which cover access to our extensive knowledge, ongoing research, booking and handholding throughout the planning process as well as while travelers are on the road.
Our choices—whether they be finding the most tasteful, family-friendly small hotel in Zermatt or arranging a bike tour through Santiago—are the result of careful cultivation. We have not only tested these experiences and visited these properties, we have invested countless hours nurturing our relationships with local partners, hoteliers, outfitters, adventure companies, you name it. When our clients pack their bags and head to the Greek Islands, we have 100 percent confidence that they are going to be happy with our choices and the services we offer on the ground.
And that, my dears, is why we charge fees.
So what do you do about the tire kickers who balk at having to pay fees? Quite simply, we move on. We don’t work for free. “Sorry I can’t help you” is a phrase I have uttered more than once. Or what about the old-fashioned clients who grew up with the idea that travel agents worked exclusively for commissions? Time to educate them. They want to go to Ireland for two weeks, stay in small authentic hotels, do some riding, fishing, visiting distilleries? Send them to your local travel agent’s shop on Main Street.
So just how much do you charge? This is an individual agency decision that has to work with your targeted demographic. As an agent or agency owner, it’s important to develop a policy that compensates you and your team adequately. Remember, you are not asking your clients to pay for keeping the lights on or to cover your rent. You are simply asking that they respect the time you are dedicating to their trip.
Our fees are based on the length and complexity of the trip and the number of travelers. If it’s within six weeks of travel, we charge more for expediting. Air processing fees are a separate charge, as are special rail and ferry bookings.
For the people who come to us and just want a straightforward hotel booking, we don’t charge. But if they come to us saying, they want “someplace warm over the holidays,” we charge for what inevitably will be many hours of research.
It’s very important to understand that when you charge fees, you will likely have more demands from your clients. You have to be ready for that and have a policy in place
as to how to handle it. It’s also important to make it clear to them how available you
are. Many travel agents/advisors/designers today are basically on call 24/7. This alone is very valuable.
In fact, I have to go now. Just got a WhatsApp from my client staying at a farm
in Northern Norway. They want to stay another day.
Susan Farewell is the owner of Farewell Travels LLC (FarewellTravels.com), a travel design firm based in Westport, CT. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @FarewellTravels.