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Who Needs a Travel Agent?

We live in a world where social media and smartphones are changing the face of trip planning (and everything else), 57% of all travel reservations are made on the Internet (with higher percentages every year), and the Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the employment of travel agents to decline 12 percent from 2012 to 2022.

We also live in a country where leisure travelers consider their vacations planned through travel agents better than those planned without them, where one out of nine jobs depend on travel and tourism, and where 70,000 travel agents have enough work to stay employed.

What do these two conflicting trends mean? It means that travel agents have by no means disappeared, but that they have to be smarter than their human and electronic competition to survive in a changing industry. Who are the agents who will survive? The New York Times calls them “a new breed of tech savvy, specialized and collaborative agent.” Likewise, the Bureau of Labor Statistics puts their bet on those “who specialize in specific destinations or particular types of travelers, such as groups with a special interest or corporate travelers.”

“Specialized” doesn’t have to translate to “luxury” or “corporate.” Agents of all types often secure the best travel deals. In 2012, a New York Times blogger found that niche travel companies serving immigrant communities in New York could consistently get him cheaper flight tickets than he could find online. Even compared with the best travel sites, “travel advisors” often have more to offer the person who doesn’t love spending hours doing their own trip planning grunt work.

 

Local Travel Agents in NYC

While a small percentage of travel agents are independent, most work for a travel agency. We reached out to some best travel agents and highest-rated companies with offices in NYC to discover the faces behind the travel industry. (You can personally meet many of them at the annual New York Times Travel Show!) Six agents shared with us their specialties, stories, tips, and personal opinions on travel websites. If you’ve exhausted all those magnificent NYC tours or are just looking for something more (or less!) extreme than the daily urban grind, why not reach out to a professional who can help you get away for a while?

 

Jack Ezon

Jack Ezon headshot

 

 

President, Ovation Vacations
71 Fifth Avenue, 10th floor
New York, NY 10003
(212) 329-7350
jezon@ovationtravel.com

 

 

 

Fee: It varies – usually between $350 – $1,500 depending on the trip 

Specialties:

  • Destination celebrations
  • Honeymoons
  • Family travel
  • Adventure
  • Active travel

Backstory: Former lawyer cum travel web developer who got lucky when the internet bubble burst, landing me into the luxury travel arena!

Favorite Destination: Jersey Shore!

Travel Tip: Email yourself a scanned copy of your passport and credit cards. This way if you lose any of them  you can always access it from most any computer.

What’s the advantage of agents over travel websites?

Our relationships open doors and provide perks unattainable as a number delivered from a website.  We make personal calls or contact to hotel managers before every one of our guests arrive reviewing all of their preferences and often securing upgrades on arrival. You cannot VIP yourself!

 

Joanna Brooke Stark

 

Joanna Brooke Stark

 

Travel Agent at Seven Hills Global
1991 Broadway, Suite 5D, New York, NY 10023
646-942-8030
joanna@sevenhillsglobal.com

 

 

Fee:

Our fees vary based on the amount of work that goes into each program.

  • Honeymoons and General Travel Programming – No fee, just a $250 deposit that goes into the cost of the program
  • Destination Wedding – Fees vary based on services needed. If we are only managing hotel then we ask for a $500 deposit that goes into the cost of the program
  • Meetings & Incentive Travel – 10 – 15% for a fully executed program to include items such as private events/dinners, transfers, registration site(s), event communication, hotel procurement, budget management, pre-program and on-site management etc.

Specialties:

  • Honeymoons
  • Luxury Travel Vacations
  • Destination Weddings
  • Corporate Meetings & Incentive Travel

Backstory:

Starting at a young age I found travel and every new experience it created fascinating.  I fell in love with meeting new people, immersing myself in different cultures, exploring unknown cities and beaches, and tasting what the world had to offer.

Studying research and communication and having a 12 year career in Sports Marketing introduced me to the world of hospitality and travel.  I was lucky enough to take on projects that allowed me to see the world.  As I traveled I shared my research and findings with friends and family.  I spent a lot of free time assisting them build their international travel plans and eventually I started helping friends of friends.   With that a business started to grow.

In 2011, on a beautiful summer day in Lisbon my husband and I sat down for a late lunch.  Over an incredible meal and a nice glass of wine an idea was created. I wanted to combine my passion and talent and create a travel concierge business.  It only seemed appropriate to name the company Seven Hills, after the Seven Hills of Lisbon, a truly inspiring place.

Favorite Destination: My favorite quote is “You can’t have a favorite place until you’ve seen them all.” I’ve been to some incredible places but there are so many more I want to discover. If I had to pick one location I’d have to say South Africa. Between the vineyards, beautiful landscape, hiking, safaris, marine biology and adventure it is truly one-of-a-kind.

Travel Tip(s)

– Apply for a credit card that offers perks for when you travel. For example, Amex Platinum will get you into most airport lounges and will save money on baggage fees and in-flight charges.

– If flying on an overnight flight,  book your hotel for the night prior so your room/bed is waiting for you upon arrival.

What’s the advantage of agents over travel websites?

Knowledge, service, discounts and the human element. Most people do not want cookie-cutter trips and most travel websites offer packaged travel.   Excellent agencies are about service, knowledge and customizing travel to fit specific needs.  At Seven Hills we offer a travel consultant for each person who books with us.  That means we don’t have a Monday – Friday / 9 – 5  schedule.  Our clients know they can reach out to us at any point with any questions and we will get back to them promptly no matter the time or the day of the week.  What most people are not aware of is that travel websites do not always offer the best rates.  Agencies work with wholesalers and build their own relationships with hotel brands which means we typically can meet or beat the rates that are found online.

 

Robert Goldstein

Robert Goldstein

 

 

Travel Agent at Protravel International
515 Madison Avenue #10, New York, NY 10022
(212) 755-4550
 

 

 

 

Fee:

Air:  I charge a maximum fee of $110, which includes a general fee of $35 for any flight, plus 4% of the base fare, but only to a maximum of $75.

Trip: For trip planning I charge a $400 nonrefundable fee.

Specialty: As a luxury leisure travel agent, it’s incumbent upon me to possess and maintain knowledge about the entire world. However, I pride myself on being an expert on breathtaking destinations particularly throughout Southeast Asia, Africa, as well as Europe. My clients often enjoy and ask for extraordinary journeys to India, South America, and Southeast Asia.

Backstory: With over 40 years of experience, I have gained vast knowledge about luxury leisure as well as corporate travel. Under the umbrella of Protravel, I have built my clientele based solely on word of mouth and recommendations from existing clients. Throughout the years, I have travelled the world extensively, always with the goal of truly experiencing a country’s culture and all that it has to offer. My mantra has always been for many destinations: “You must see it to sell it.”  To sell a property with confidence one must truly believe in a property or destination, based on knowing your clients likes and dislikes. Prior to my 15 years with Protravel International, I was an EVP of a multinational travel agency, which was the first agency with satellite/computer communication connecting three continents, with offices in the US, the UK (London), and China (Hong Kong).

Favorite destination: As one of the most rewarding and fascinating destinations I have experienced, Africa would be on the top of my list. The beauty of the continent and the richness and diversity of its culture are something you cannot find anywhere else in the world.  It is truly the “soul” of the Earth.

Travel Tip: The most important advice I give to a client is to research the destination before going on a trip. “Always know where you are going to avoid disappointments or misconceptions.”  Only when you know your destination can you truly enjoy yourself in a foreign land and dive into a new world.  Once they have an understanding of the destination, I can then guide them in order to make it a memorable experience.

What’s the advantage of agents over travel websites?

As a longtime travel agent, I do not simply plan a trip; I create unique experiences that one will cherish for a lifetime. A really good agent provides expertise and service, coupled with the resources needed to first respond before, during, and after a client’s trip. My clients have the peace of mind in knowing that I’m there for them in any kind of situation, from cancelled flights, to catastrophic weather changes. I routinely go above and beyond to make sure my clients’ safety is guaranteed and all of their needs and wishes are met. It may cost a little bit more, but my clients believe that the benefits I provide  in creating a priceless experience with their individual needs and desires in mind are worth every penny.   I deal with only well-respected travel companies all over the world. When a client wants to rent a car, my biggest concern is to make sure, the car is safe, the driver is English speaking and licensed properly.  My clients can rest assured that with me working for them tirelessly, their travel dreams will come true.

 

Brandi Brister

Brandi Brister at Dundas

 

Group Meetings & Special Events Manager at Valerie Wilson Travel, Inc.

475 Park Avenue South, 34th Floor
New York, New York  10016
212.592.1248
brandib@vwti.com
 

Fee: Starting at $750 per event/meeting

Specialty:

  • Meetings
  • Special Events
  • Destination Weddings

Backstory: I graduated from LSU with a bachelor’s degree in Marketing. During my time as a Tiger, I played rugby and was a sports journalist for our student newspaper. I began my career with Valerie Wilson Travel in 2010, after previous positions in event management in the sports industry. As Valerie Wilson Travel’s Meetings and Events Manager, I am passionate about planning exotic destination weddings and innovative group meetings. I enjoy running and have participated in numerous races of varying lengths, most recently completing the Goofy Challenge at Walt Disney World which was a half marathon on Saturdayfollowed by a full marathon on Sunday.

Favorite Destination: Greek Islands and Germany

Travel Tip: Traveling with the right person is crucial to your overall trip experience. Before traveling, be sure to have a dialogue regarding your budget, common interests, free time vs touring time, and must-see list while away. Your idea of “relaxing” may be to sleep til 10am then head out for shopping, while your partner may find leaving the hotel early and losing their way in a large museum relaxing. Having a complementary travel style and discussing shared expectations will go a long way!

What’s the advantage of agents over travel websites?

First of all, I am a ton of fun to work with! Your computer will probably not laugh at your jokes. But then again, why are you talking to your computer screen? On a serious note — after a lengthy and thoughtful conversation about a client’s upcoming trip or event, a handful of customized options are returned for their review. Online results will return every single hotel available in that destination with no regard to your personal preferences or desired travel experience. The time savings, peace of mind, and far more often than not, the money savings, are well worth it.

 

Conclusion

If you want to go travel, whether your interest is in finding cheap airline tickets for a mini-vacation, getting your entire family to the Bahamas for a destination wedding, or planning the most efficient trip for your company’s management team, remember that travel agents are real—and really helpful. To paraphrase Brandi Brister, they’re also a lot more fun to work with than a computer!