Young people turn to old school travel agents

Lockdowns against epidemics have been eased but that doesn’t mean travel has become easier.

Orlando resident Chris Delgado, 30, an owner of a consulting agency, and his wife Andy, 36, a homemaker mom, were pumped in to finally plan a 12-day delayed trip to Italy in March.

“We started trying to book the flight ourselves, but we couldn’t get rooms in the hotels we wanted in Venice, Florence or Rome,” said Chris Delgado. “We were also confused about the test requirements and had a lot of questions that we couldn’t get answers to by calling hotels or searching online.”

To prepare, they definitely went the old school route and used a travel “advisor” (the computer term for “agent” these days) Lee Ann Howe of Coastline Travel Advisors. Within a day, they had a dream itinerary in place.

“Lee Ann has amazing personal relationships with key people in the hotels we wanted to stay in like the St. Regis in Venice,” Chris said. “Suddenly, the doors opened.”

Chris and Andy Delgado almost had to cancel a 12-day tour around Italy until a travel advisor bailed out.

Christopher Delgado

But booking rooms wasn’t the only hurdle for them. When the couple’s trip to Venice was suddenly canceled, they were stunned to find out that Howe had already booked them on another plane for the same price.

On the ground, Chris says they were treated like VIPs.

“Thanks to Lee Ann’s relationships, we spoiled every property with gifts, bottles of wine, and other surprises,” Chris said. “It is an experience we have never been able to replicate. We have completely switched to using a travel advisor and will never follow the path online again.”

Departing flight board with cancellation at the airport.
The recent barrage of canceled flights has turned young people into old-school travel agents for the first time.
Getty Images

And they’re not alone: ​​Virtuoso, a travel network of more than 20,000 advisors globally, has seen a 50% increase in demand in the past year alone with Millennials and Generation Xers being the fastest growing segment of new clients. The American Association of Travel Consultants, made up of 17,000 members, reports that 76% of counselors are seeing a jump in demand for their services. Elite travel companies say they are turning away customers. Fischer Travel, which charges a one-time membership fee of $100,000, plus $25,000 annually, is an example and counts celebrities and industry giants among its members.

“We screen those we accept because we want to be able to serve them at the highest level and we can’t do that if we have too many members,” said President Stacey Fischer Rosenthal.

Once about as old as a fax machine, the post-pandemic web of flight cancellations, chronic staff shortages, bureaucratic COVID testing requirements and skyrocketing hotel and airline ticket prices have renewed the need for a knowledgeable agent.

Along with counsellor Andrew Steinberg and married couple Brian Mayorana and Jennifer Bahamond.
Dawn Oliver’s advisor Andrew Steinberg (left) says that advisors like him are access providers. Brian Majorana and Jennifer Bahamond (right) wanted to go to Saint-Tropez at the last minute. Their travel advisor hooked them up with loads of luxurious extras.
David Dupuy

Andrew Steinberg, another Virtuoso travel consultant from Ovation Vacations in New York, says reaching out to his wealthy clients and playing their advocate is the biggest part of his job.

“In the best of circumstances and even for the wealthy, unpredictability is more taken for granted than ever,” he said.

Case in point: Steinberg recently had clients whose 7 a.m. flight from JFK to Los Angeles on American Airlines was canceled. They were rebooked on a flight that connected them via Boston, but Steinberg stepped in and changed them to a direct flight departing from JFK later that morning. When that flight was also cancelled, Steinberg rebooked it on a direct flight departing the next day.

“The clients were thrilled, and I dealt with all of that before they even woke up,” he said.

“[My client] She was told she had to be quarantined at a hotel, but we took her on a private plane to Florida in three hours.”

Stacy Fischer Rosenthal, President of Fisher Travel.

In another scenario, Steinberg says he has many clients who want to vacation in Greece this summer – the only problem is that all the best hotels in the country are already sold out for June.

“Finding good hotel rooms, guides and drivers is quite a challenge, but my connections in Greece helped me secure impossible requests,” he said.

Fischer-Rosenthal says Fischer Travel has also achieved the unimaginable. In a recent situation, a client was attending a stag party in the Bahamas and tested positive for COVID when she took the test required to re-enter the United States.

“She was told she had to be quarantined in a hotel, but we took her on a private plane to Florida in three hours,” she said.

Fischer Travel clients may have unrestricted budgets, but most travelers today appreciate saving money. To that end, Beals points out, booking your flight with a luxury travel advisor means free hotel extras like room upgrades, breakfast and spa, food and drink credits, early check-in and late check-out. “You end up saving a lot more than you expect,” she said.

Of course, travel consultants are expected to make a profit, and some of them charge planning fees for their services. These generally range from $50 to nearly $1,000 depending on the complexity of the trip. Others say they don’t charge a fee at all and make their money on commissions instead.

Detroit resident Brian Mayorana, 43, and his fiancée Jennifer Bahamond, 43, who also work in the restaurant business, used Dawn Oliver of Embark Beyond in New York to book their honeymoon in Paris and Saint-Tropez in June.

“It was a last minute trip, and I was struggling to get to the hotels and understand the requirements of the coronavirus,” Brian said.

Oliver was referred to by a friend who said he had never used a travel advisor and didn’t know what she could really do. When Oliver presented them with an itinerary that included meals at hot restaurants, admission to coveted beach clubs and upgraded rooms in luxury hotels, Majorana quickly changed his mind.

“The convenience of using a counselor and the hours and hours of time you saved are invaluable,” he said.

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