An Insider's Perspective on the Travel Industry.
A peak behind the emerald curtain.
Imagine walking across a sugar white beach with sand that feels like flour between your toes, hand in hand with your sweetheart, as you watch the gentle waves come rolling in from the constantly changing turquoise waters. Imagine the smiles and laughter of spending an evening together with some of your closest friends over a bottle of robust red wine as you relate the day's adventure of wrestling up a mountainside in your rental car, and look out over the valley to see the city lights sparkling in the distance. Imagine the valuable time spent together with your father as you sail towards the horizon in anticipation of a new country to visit, new friends to make, new cuisine to savor, new culture to become immersed in and old relationships to grow. For Sandy and I these are many of the reasons why we travel and is the passion behind Travel Simplicity in helping others to experience unique travel made simple. As Hilaire Belloc says, "we wander for distraction, but we travel for fulfillment." In order to have some of these life changing moments, however, a lot of work is involved and we want to take a few minutes to pull back the emerald curtain just a bit and reveal some of the wizardry so whether you are planning on your own or having a travel professional help to fit all the pieces of the puzzle together, you will gain insight that you did not have before.
There are so many questions to be answered. Of course you could simple pack your bags, go to the airport and buy a plane ticket for the first country or state starting with the letter "a" but most people like a bit of organization along with the spontaneity. Who you are, your passions, your interests, your likes and dislikes will all determine your answers to the following questions.
Why do I want to travel? Are you going away for a destination wedding, honeymoon, vacation, to relax, to surf, escape, or just try something new?
What experiences do I want to have? Do you want to climb a mountain, ride an elephant through the jungle, visit glow worms hiding out in mysterious caverns, sip a fine wine, relax on a beach, go hot air ballooning, or learn how to grill the perfect steak?
Where do I want to go? Many times where to go is determined from the experiences you want to have. Is one island better than another for scuba diving? Where can you see Picasso's famous last work or watch a great cricket game? What cruise line and ship is best for families and where can you play Robinson Crusoe on your very own private island?
When do you go? The time you choose to travel makes a big difference. There are high and low seasons which can dramatically affect prices, but also the events, activities and overall feel of a particular destination. Do you visit Iceland in the winter or Florida? Do you go to Aruba over spring break or take the family over Christmas? Will it be rainy when you arrive in England and should you pack your coat when traveling to China in September?
Where do you stay? You can stay in a variety of places, all of which are different. What you like will not necessarily be right for your neighbor, your friend or your family. You can experience an intimate Bed and Breakfast, a tree house up in the canopy, a historic castle, a luxurious yacht, a family villa, sprawling resort or city at sea aboard a mega cruse ship.
How to get there? It is important to determine the best way to reach a given location and how to get around once you are there. Should you take a plane, train, or automobile? Are taxis a good option or a rental car better? Do you need a GPS or will it not even work? How cost effective is using public transportation and is it close to the hotel? Should you leave from the local airport or drive to another for a direct flight? Where do you park?
How do you go about planning and booking travel? One method is to do it yourself. Once you have answered the questions above start searching online for some places to consider going or places that have the activities you want. You can also pick up travelers guide books, read blogs, watch the Twitter feed, read reviews on Trip Advisor, subscribe to local and/or international new sources, contact local visitor's bureaus, make phone calls to the property you will be staying at or email the concierge for more information. Unfortunately many times, people who have not traveled before do not realize the amount of work involved in putting the details together which tends to translate into stress and exhaustion when the desire was relaxation, rejuvenation and enjoyment. The reason so many people plan travel themselves is that they: (1) Are not happy with the status quo and want something other than a cookie-cutter package. (2) They are afraid that someone else will screw up their plans and not give them the experience they are expecting. (3) Think that the planning process is simple and will not take very much time. Is this true? Let's look at some of the key components of the travel profession along with some of their strengths and weaknesses.
The travel and tourism industry starts with the individual companies themselves such as the hotels, museums, car rental agencies, bowling alleys, art galleries and restaurants in a given area. Many times they belong to a local visitor's bureau to help them market to the local community as well as the international community through the use of print, web, and word of mouth advertising. Going to the source can be a very helpful experience as they are well aware of the current state of their property, can tell you about new exhibits, local events and great places to visit. However, they want you to eat at their restaurant, stay in their ocean view suites, and play golf at their course which is the "best in town". The task can be daunting to start planning here as most of the work still needs to be done yourself and it can be difficult in ascertaining the truth of the claims or even knowing what are the right questions to ask to get the answers you want. In fact not all the places are easily found with many only being known in the local community.
Most people are familiar with Tour Operators (TO), if not by the industry moniker than by the names of some well known TOs such as Trafalgar, Royal Caribbean and Abercrombie & Kent. These companies take the time to get to know a given area very well through much research, personal visits and the development of professional relationships. Tour operators help to simplify the complexity of all the different options and package together some popular recommended choices for a given locale. They tend to focus in a specific area or areas and know it very well. As anything else, quality of service and products offered varies greatly with some TOs catering to the adventure crowd, some to a budget market and some to the luxury experience. Most experiences are packages which may work for some and not others. Sometimes they will allow for customization, but only for the areas of the world in which they operate. Costs are generally good as their income is derived largely thanks to commissions paid from the various companies with whom they partner. The benefits are working with a company who has a good intimate knowledge of the areas they offer, can incorporate unique experiences, are sometimes capable of providing a behind the scenes experience, have special amenities thanks to their professional relationships and prices similar to doing the work on your own. Some possible shortcomings appear when you want to do something outside of a normal package, are not sure what Tour Operator to choose, want someone to know your personal interests and passions, and do not want to start the research process over again each year as you change from visiting New York City to Italy to Thailand to St. Lucia to South Africa.
Enter the Travel Agent, one member of a larger Travel Agency, who works with multiple Tour Operators to offer travel experiences from around the world. Travel agents can be a part of a large corporation such as AAA, American Express or Expedia (in fact many online companies such as Trip Advisor and Travelocity operate as a travel agency), have a small locally owned company or be a home-based agent. Some agents completed dedicated education and have been in the business for 30+ years. Some have earned degrees in travel and tourism. Some hold certifications. Some specialize in a given area like the Caribbean, all-inclusive resorts or teddy-bear adventures (I'm not making this up). Travel agents have the flexibility to offer a wider range of choices to you as a traveler, give you someone to talk with if there is a problem, and can help answer your many questions such as how to navigate through airport security or what the best way is to get a passport. Travel agents have professional networks of contacts available to them around the world to answer questions, can many times offer special amenities not offered elsewhere, and can help to suggest the best Tour Operator to use in a given situation. Travel agents and agencies operate mainly off of commission from the Tour Operators whom they work with and therefore many of them do not charge extra for their services and the cost is similar to doing the work yourself. Some potential difficulties are when you want to go and do something outside of the scope of the options offered by their preferred tour operators. Most travel agents primarily work off of packages since that is what the tour operators provide and getting paid via commission can be a detriment such as when you want to stay in a B&B that does not offer commission. Time is an issue as there is only so much time that can be spent with a person, couple or family before it starts costing money and the number of clients a company works with needs to be pretty high. As commissions fall and research time increases some agents are beginning to charge fees to offer their valuable service.
The Future of Travel
Here is where it gets interesting. As the industry progresses we think more and more companies will begin to do things as we do at Travel Simplicity - as personal travel advisors. Many are already calling themselves Travel Consultants instead of Travel Agents. (Yes this will sound self-serving but please forgive that as we think it makes good sense.) Sandy and I began traveling like many others: doing all the work ourselves, scouring the internet for hours, staying up late at night looking over websites, reading travel books, looking over reviews and trying to determine the best place for us to go on our honeymoon and also subsequent vacations all over the world to Thailand, Honduras, Iceland and New York City to name a few. We were not happy with a simple package. We wanted flexibility to do what we wanted, go where we wanted, and do it when we wanted. We wanted to be spontaneous but did not want to miss out on something amazing. In the process we learned a lot and found that it takes a lot of effort to put together a trip - even a relatively simple one. We were exhausted, frustrated, tired of looking at prices, and stressed out before even leaving to go on our great adventures. We came to the conclusion that "there has to be a better way".
We started Travel Simplicity in 2009 in response to this yearning that resonates with a lot of people in a similar position. We started out as traditional Travel Agents offering free service and quickly were underwhelmed and disappointed. We did not want to rush around, try to get people in and out the door quickly. We wanted to be able to give exclusive attention and provide an experience that was wholly different. We wanted to get to know people, make them homemade chocolate chip cookies and have an interesting, intimate, relaxing experience. As the business evolved we have taken what we feel to be the best parts of the travel industry along with the personality of creating a travel experience on your own and created a business model that allows us to provide the same experience for others that we wanted for ourselves.
Unique Travel Made Simple embodies a focus that we believe is at the forefront of a trend that is changing much of the travel industry. Instead of the destination being the primary focus, the focus should be on you. Two people can go to the same place and experience it very differently from one another. So in order to properly plan, we get to know you, and your friends and your family through an in depth application and interview process. We learn about your passions and unique interests so that we can expertly custom-tailor the travel experience to be something you will truly enjoy without the headaches and stress. And once the application process is complete, your hardest part is done! And you do not have to do it year after year. We recognize that the most valuable asset we have is time. We can never get more of it. Taking the time investment on our shoulders frees you up to spend your time doing whatever else you want to do. Go on a picnic with your family, watch a movie, enjoy dinner together, or make wedding planning a bit more relaxing. We wanted to be able to provide the best service, the best overall experience from start to finish and the most flexible, comprehensive customization available so we chose to do something radical.
Commission is great but sometimes it just does not work for you so we changed the model and now it opens us up to help with dinner reservations, unique accommodations, tickets to a local performance and more. To accomplish all of this, we charge a percentage of the trip cost based on the time it takes to plan the experience. No matter if the trip is a weekend or a month, near or far, moderate or luxury, a package from a Tour Operator or from a local tourist board, simple or complex Travel Simplicity is designed to help. There is no box. The benefits of a personal travel advisor are exclusive attention and support, the freedom to do what you want, go where you want, when you want. You have someone who is working with and for you to check, double check and triple check reservation details, to ask the right questions, to make the entire planning process enjoyable, to help reduce mistakes, minimize stress, take care of problems, give advice, offer suggestions, plan, organize, develop, design, and simplify the process so that you can simply enjoy the experience. The downside is the service is not free and the planning process may take a bit longer. The real questions, however, are "what is the best value" and "what experience do I want?"