I’ve been hearing a lot lately about the “DIY Travel Agent”. DIY (Do It Yourself) doesn’t apply only to those who tackle household repairs, now the term also describes the traveler who spends hours online and plans a vacation without the benefit of a travel professional. Saving money is the primary motivator for any DIY project—including trip planning--and for those of you who readily admit to doing projects yourself which sometimes should have been handled by a professional, this is most likely your motivator as well.
The mindset of DIY is that a person can do the same job as a professional and it will not only turn out the same—or better—but it will cost less in the bargain. Not always true of course; simple tasks excluded. It’s the big jobs that can result in big problems if not done right. The DIY Travel Agent faces the same challenges only doesn’t recognize them.
A recent New York Times article says that in a survey conducted by the I.B.M. Institute for Business Value, of more than 2,000 travelers worldwide, 20 percent said it took them more than five hours to search and book travel online. Nearly half said it required more than two hours. (Are Travel Agents Back? Michelle Higgins, April 20, 2012). An experienced travel agent spends a fraction of the time researching and booking, thereby freeing up the traveler to shop for cute vacation clothes.
There are potential hazards to remodeling a bathroom or changing the oil in a car, if the Do It Yourselfer is neither a contractor nor a mechanic. Planning and booking a trip online if the DIY travel agent is not a skilled travel counselor is little different; therefore, pay close attention and learn ‘When Not to Do It Yourself’.
- When the skills needed for the project are greater than what you have.
- When you will spend more money doing your own work than by paying someone else to do it.
- When you have to call in a professional to repair what you’ve done.
Amy and Jason—who have never booked anything more complicated than airline tickets online—have decided to go to Europe. They have never travelled out of the US but it’s a trip they have planned to take for years. They have a list of places and sights they don’t want to miss and a modest budget. And yet, Amy and Jason have every confidence that they can plan and book their vacation just as easily as a travel agent can and save all kinds of money by doing it online. Jason says that travel agents don’t bother to look for the best deals because they will make less money if they do.
Amy and Jason spend a lot of time researching their trip online. In fact, they are online a lot; sneaking around the internet at work and surfing at home late into the night. After 2 weeks they are no closer to actually booking a trip then they were when they started looking. Every time one would settle on a hotel the other read yet another review on yet another blog and they both are back to square one. Meanwhile, the price of the airline tickets has gone up twice, Amy lost a day of work because she was too exhausted after staying up all night online researching B&B’s around a cute little village in Southern France—which wasn’t even on their original itinerary—and Jason’s ‘detours’ in Italy have added about a thousand dollars to the trip budget.
Amy is now ready to book flights for her and Jason but when she goes online the dates they wanted are not available any longer. Amy switches vacation days with a co-worker, Jason manages to re-schedule an important meeting and they book the flights for one week later than their desired dates. The airfare is also more expensive because now they are travelling in high season. Jason suggests that had Amy been paying closer attention to the airfares, several hundred dollars might have been saved. Amy tells Jason that she has other things to do and he could have just as easily booked the tickets himself because after all she isn’t a travel agent.
Two days later Amy and Jason are having dinner with a couple who rave about a small hotel outside of Rome and say that no one can experience the ‘real Rome’ staying anywhere else. That night Jason cancels the hotel Amy had booked in Rome near the Spanish Steps and books the smaller ‘rustic’ hotel the couple suggested. The next day Amy looks up the hotel online and finds it has been closed for renovation, she cannot get the other hotel in Rome again because now it is sold out. Meanwhile, Jason calls the airline to add his frequent flier account number to his reservation and reserve seats only to find that a schedule change has resulted in the airline re-booking Amy on a flight which departs a day early than Jason’s. Dinner that night was rather unpleasant what with each accusing the other of ruining the whole trip.
Finally Amy calls a travel agent for help despite Jason’s grumbling that he could ‘take care of it.” In the end the travel agent not only works with the airline to put Amy back on her original flight but also manages to re-book the hotel by the Spanish Steps in Rome. In addition, the travel agent suggests a simpler routing of the itinerary which now allows for an additional night in Venice at a charming hotel the agent had stayed at only the month before. In fact, the agent could have booked the entire trip for Amy and Jason on the dates the originally wanted, suggested hotels in better locations and constructed an itinerary which would have allowed more time in key locations—all for quite a bit less than what they ultimately paid; including a modest booking fee. Amy and Jason are planning another vacation soon, this time to South Africa. This time, they will hire a professional to do it right, their new travel agent.
Travel agent DIY’ers take note, it’s really not as easy as it looks to plan a dream trip but it is remarkably easy to book a nightmare.