By Nicole Hennessy
Northeast Ohioans who can afford to do so escape the winter gray and cold by indulging in tropical vacations. Or they indulge in snowier areas more conducive to activities like skiing or snowboarding.
Plane tickets, hotel reservations and excursions can all be booked online, even on cellphones. There was a time, however, when travel agents were the only option. While many people go the online route, travel agents are not obsolete; they operate as they always have, their functions unchanged by technology.
At Landfall Travel in Lakewood, four agents sit at desks, talking to clients or service providers such as hotel representatives. The storefront’s otherwise plain walls feature maps, helping travelers imagine prospective adventures, and shelves containing pamphlets for almost every destination imaginable.
Ann Huber, who’s owned Landfall for more than 20 years, says people come to them for their expertise and industry connections, incentives not available to those who book online.
She said, “We saw a drop in business, but now we’ve seen (clients) come back.”
She believes this can be attributed to the fact that people realize “when you’re spending a lot of money, you need to talk to a person.”
Travel agents can recommend accredited bed-and-breakfasts or cottages. Especially outside of the country, it can be risky to book these types of accommodations based on pictures alone.
While Huber admitted that more of her customers are middle aged and older, she said younger people come to her when they need to plan important trips, such as honeymoons.
A bonus to booking through travel agents is that they are often able to get clients extras like dinners on the beach, room upgrades or massages. Many of them, like Landfall, which is associated with American Express, have strong relationships with companies that can help expedite lost credit cards or wire money. Agents can also assist travelers who experience problems with passports or visas.
If anything is to be done online, Huber encouraged travelers to jump on cheap plane tickets, which can increase by hundreds of dollars in a matter of hours, as soon as they find them, and leave the rest to a travel agent. The only problem she can identify with clients booking their flights on the Internet is if the flight were delayed or canceled or the client fails to make a connection. In these cases, travel agents are able to call the airport and correct the situation by getting them another flight. Still, some prices are too low to pass up.
While she said there are not as many travel agencies as there used to be, she believes the ones that managed to survive the initial move toward online self-service, including hers, sustained their business “because we’re experienced and we’re knowledgeable. There’s no substitute for either.”
Simply put and succinct, there is no need for further encouragement of prospective clients. But, as her tagline goes, “Without a travel agent, you’re on your own.”