Travel Agent-Advisor-Consultant...what's the Difference?
Travel Agent-Advisor-Consultant...What’s the difference?
Many times, you will hear us use the terms “travel agent," “travel advisor," and “travel consultant” interchangeably. There are some reasons for that, and this is not accidental. We’d like to help clear the fog on these terms, so you can be “in the know."
According to the Cambridge English Dictionary, a travel agent is “a person or company that arranges tickets, hotel rooms, etc. for people going on vacation or making a trip.” That is, of course, the traditional understanding of a travel agent. We represent our clients to our suppliers and we represent our suppliers to our clients.
Up until the late 20th century, a person would call a travel agency and place an “order” for the travel they wanted. For instance, “Please book us on tour #1421 to Fiji on March 26.” Agents took orders and helped with the ticketing transactions. Travel agents would make commissions from the various suppliers (airlines, hotels, tour operators, car rental companies, etc.).
Two massive shifts in the travel industry have changed much of the way travel agents have had to do business. First, along with the internet came the online travel agency (OTA). Why would people use a travel agent to ticket a flight when they could jump online and do it themselves? Second, airlines began reducing and even eliminating commissions on airfare. As one can imagine, both of these shifts changed everything. Many travel agents were forced out of the industry as self-booking took off, and many travel agents became home-based businesses rather than part of storefront locations.
Several years ago, a key association for travel agents began to work on changing the terminology and the public’s perception of how travel agents serve their clients. The term “travel advisor” became the newly used title for this role. Why? Because to differentiate themselves from OTAs, travel advisors had to be so much more than mere order takers and trip bookers. An advisor is someone who can give advice in a specific field. Travel advisors listen to clients’ needs better than SkyScanner or Expedia are able to. Travel advisors can answer client questions based on their own training and experience and can guide their clients in travel decisions to ensure the travel experience is above and beyond their expectations. And while travel advisors are still agents and bookers, they are so much more.
More and more, I have begun using the term “travel consultant”. Consultant and advisor can be considered synonymous, yes. But, because of my business background and 15 years of experience consulting with businesses in the areas of operations, administration, meeting planning, and travel, I feel like the word “consultant” is a more holistic descriptor of what I can do for my clients. Is it semantics? Well, sure. But as a business owner, I have the responsibility of defining my company’s culture and accurately describing how I benefit and serve my clients. I think “consultant” describes it best.
I like to develop relationships with my clients. I get to know them, their families, and their friend-circles. I connect with them on social media. I keep track of their birthdays and anniversaries, and I know their kids’ names. I am here to serve them and be a blessing to them.
When I first meet with potential clients, I like to find out about their travel histories, their wish lists, and their bucket lists. What experiences have been particularly memorable? What are some bad experiences they’ve had that they want to avoid? I discuss their travel budgets with them. I then can construct customized itineraries that fit who they are and what they enjoy doing.
This personalized travel planning experience is so much more than booking and even a bit more than mere advising. I love what I do. I love helping people make amazing memories. I love getting their feedback after a trip and learning more about their preferences so I can tailor the next trip for them even more.
Hopefully, this sheds some light on the various terms used for my role. I may use agent, advisor, and consultant interchangeably at times so everyone knows what I’m referring to, but from my heart, I will always strive to serve my clients (my friends) the best way possible.