Are References Essential When Choosing a Travel Agent?

I was in the middle of writing an article about choosing a travel agent yesterday — which is a little more involved for folks that have mobility issues — when I jumped into an on-line debate about how people should go about this.

First off, you can’t just pick any travel agent. Well, you can, but then you pretty much roll the dice with that one. You really need to find someone who is well versed in accessible travel.

Do you need a specialist who only books accessible travel? Some folks say yes, while others say no. I’m somewhere in the middle on that one. Basically I think it’s trip dependent.

Which brings us to the debate. How do you find a qualified travel agent?

Some folks say, “check their references”; but lets be honest, no travel agent is ever going to purposely give you a reference from a client who had a disastrous trip. And if they did, I would kind of wonder if that travel agent wasn’t a few fries short of a Happy Meal. Be real — if you can’t even tell your happy clients from your pissed-off ones, then how are you going to make sure I don’t end up in Milwaukee instead of Miami? After all, it is a detail-oriented profession.

Plus, how do you know that their references are real clients? They could just be friends posing as clients. Sure, they could also be legitimate, but there’s really no way to tell that; so for that reason, I think asking for references is pretty much an exercise in futility.

Unless of course you know the person giving the reference. Then that’s another story. Sometimes.

A referral from someone you know and trust is always good; however if that person doesn’t share your disability, then that’s pretty useless too. After all, just because a travel agent is good at planning mainstream trips, doesn’t mean that they will also be good at planning a vacation that requires accessible transportation, lodging and tours.

So what do you look for?

What about their length in business? Yes and no. They could have been in business for five years, yet only planned eight trips for friends and family. That’s not uncommon today, with multilevel marketing “become a travel agent and travel for free” scams abounding. (Read John Frenaye’s great Examiner column for more information on how to spot those scammers.)

So what’s a potential traveler to do? If you can’t rely on references and longevity, then what should you look for when choosing a travel agent?

In the end, it comes down to a combination of things; including years in business, the number of trips planned, and the number of trips planned for someone with a disability similar to yours. In short, it’s pretty much common sense.

References – no.

Relevant experience – yes.

It’s the smart way to choose a travel agent.