After 2 and a half years in the business, I got dislikes about being a travel agent. This is purely a post about venting, I was a great travel agent and I don’t mean to boast but there are so many honest dislikes that we faced every day as agents and nobody acknowledged. It was such an emotional rollercoaster within its competitive environment it was expected. People see the profession as a dying trade but to be honest, it is mainly ease of admin. There are many travel agent dislikes – I want to show you the truth behind the fluff.
Most people hear “Free Travel” when you say you are a travel agent.
Technically they are correct but nothing is free. Most travel agents work day and night for their commission. They get the bonus of a trip offered to them. Nobody tells you that you have to leave your loved ones at home. Nobody tells you that when you are out of the office you don’t make any money for the month. I personally had an amazing year last year but I had to increase my credit limit to pay my rent. I thought going to Mauritius was more important than my independence. People don’t realise this “ glamorous” field means still living at home with your parents because you can’t risk committing to rent every month.
The company I worked for had some really awesome platforms to get work. We had an abundance of opportunities to make money and it was motivating. What was the most soul-crushing, was preparing for a phone call and you are asked to email rates? Travel doesn’t have set rates – I never understood why people thought it was set. You watch the rate of exchange, well that directly impacts all travel. Flights, rates, availability all fluctuates by the hour. When a travel agent says “ Subject to availability” that is not just a sense of urgency to make the sale but a sense of urgency to save you money.
I had many enquiries who asked just for a rate. I spent 2 restless hours putting a perfect package together for them. Three weeks later they came back and are ready to book. My rate was not always the best. I could guarantee my service was better than all the other agencies. By the time they were ready to book the rate went up and the entire package rate increased by R4000.
We understand life happens and I am empathetic but I disliked doing this every single day. I really invested myself into people’s holidays.
I got to know the person and put myself in their shoes on this journey. Trying my best to personalise a trip to suit the small things. How far they wanted to walk, what arrangement they wanted in their bathroom. I put in maximum effort to the point that they would just take it elsewhere.
Clients rarely came across realistic about rates and tried to get the original package but never listened when I said “subject to availability.” Even when I told them the difference by each day they never took me seriously. At the end of the day, global rate fluctuation made me look like the soul crusher of holiday dreams. Instead of doing this, I heard their plea for sympathy and cut my commission to help. They had their dream holiday and at the end of the day and I struggled to put petrol in my car. I hope that the family of 5 consider this next time they book their holiday. I couldn’t be a travel agent because as a travel agent you are expected to put yourself last. As a travel agent, you are giving a family, couple, solo traveller memories that will be with them for their entire life but the client won’t remember your name.
Companies advertise THAILAND FROM R7000. This was an awesome rate, I would also immediately jump through hoops for this deal! The R7000 is the price for the return flight alone… no 4-star accommodation, transfers or breakfast included, again the poor travel agent has to discuss with the travellers and remind them that they still can’t afford to go on holiday.
I think the hardest part is telling teachers they can’t afford to go on holiday.
They work all year saving money to go on holiday and the only time they can travel is school holiday where it is the most expensive time. I am sorry to all those teachers I disappointed. To all those travellers that use a travel agent because they don’t have time to do the admin. I am sorry, I can’t just put a holiday package together for you, they might serve you olives and you really hate them. We just need a moment of your time for you to tell me what your perfect holiday would be.
As a regular traveller, my favourite part of travelling is learning. When I get back from my trips, I want to talk about what I saw, ate and learnt. As a travel agent, about 20% of the clients I dealt with were interested in the culture and conservation of the country they travelled to. The rest helped fund the massive organisations that polluted our oceans, encouraged abusive animal treatment and ignored the magic that came with travel. As a responsible traveller, I could not support this behaviour. There is so much more to travel than just a week away. There are memories that you never forget and years later talk about it around the dinner table. Travel is enlightening, positive and helps create a sense of compassion while sharing other countries’ space.
People got offended by me recommending local travel when they couldn’t afford international travel. Being shocked that people take for granted the beautiful sights we have in South Africa. Culture, beach, tropics, safari, sophistication, we have everything!
Not many of my friends and family supported me as a travel agent but instead were inspired by me.
They took my idea, got excited by my passion but never used my services. When they did use my services it was for their selfish gains, ignoring all my expertise.
Can you find a flight for me to the UK?
Sure thing, where would you like to go?
Ahh, Somewhere cheap.
Well Durban is cheap…
No In the UK,
Ahh, have you seen the news, the pound is one of the most expensive currencies… you have to be specific.
Okay fine, London!
Great, what’s your budget
I don’t have one
Okay so can you afford R10 000
R10 000 for flights and accommodation?
No, just flights
Oh gosh no, I was thinking R5000
I think you can gather the frustration.
I am happy to educate you about the world and send you on amazing holidays but you have to be realistic. You can’t go into a Gucci store and expect to find something for R100. As a travel agent, you are trained to use flight systems which are mainly coding. We were trained in popular locations and the best and worst locations to stay in, the best seasons and even hotels which suit certain groups. It’s really sad as tourism is an amazing thing. When you are passionate about something, people come to you for advice and then throw it in your face. I am very competitive in the workspace but I am also a human being.
If you can’t be flexible then you have very little options with your budget.
If you need time to decide on something I would highly recommend being flexible over having more money. As a travel agent, we like to help manage clients expectations and this was easier to do when we can paint a picture for them. If our clients couldn’t give us the time of day for a short explanation then, unfortunately, we can’t give them their dream holiday.
Everyone dreams from other peoples experiences – we want what we see. As a travel agent, we don’t want to charge you the world for a simple holiday. We want to make sure your experience is so amazing that you want to plan your next holiday immediately. We don’t want to ruin your first experience overseas with a smelly hotel and very long layovers. The experience needs to be easy and exceed your expectations.
We understand the expenses that come with going on holiday, I mean we plan it! We also understand the best value that most people are asking for. Clients bring us quotes that they want us to get better rates, you are asking us to wake up, fight for work and give it away for free. We will do it for you as there are so many incentives but keep in mind, every time you call us for questions or to make a change that takes time out of us earning money to pay for food on our table. Unfortunately, that’s what people do.
I love how everyone says “I don’t need a travel agent, I can book everything online”. When something goes wrong they call a travel agent.
I love problem-solving but as a travel agent, you are expected to help people that have chosen not to work with you but still, you are expected to serve them.
We know of airports you have never heard of and how far they are to the city. We carefully calculate your holiday so if anything goes wrong you can call one person. I was a travel agent and I had all the resources I needed to give people an amazing holiday but rarely people would hear me out.
As an ex travel agent giving advice to people wanting to be travel agents just look after your clients. When you have a client that is grateful and returns it makes all the other struggles worth it. If you are reading this post and considering a holiday, decide if you are going to use a travel agent or not before you go ahead with the planning. An agent has the extra service, that’s what you pay for. Why I couldn’t be a travel agent – I value myself far beyond what the industry expects from me.