Get the Most Out of Your Travel Agent | Travel

Booking air travel, making hotel reservations and arranging vacation travel in general has changed completely with the advent of the internet and many people try to be their own travel agents. While you can arrange seemingly most of your travel yourself, you can’t do as well as your travel agent in a long run!Travel processionals, whether your local travel agent, tour operator or destination specialist still possess contacts that you as an industry outsider do not have. As in number of other professions, travel agents, whether in a shopping center near your home or an online agency, wherever they may be located, do know something you do not, have way to book and arrange travel for you in ways unavailable or unknown to you.Traditionally you could contact a travel agent and ask for a quote, whether a price of an air ticket, hotel or a vacation package. For the most part travel agents still provide that kind of information, although there is a limit how much information they may disclose as not all information is readily available to them.First of all, most travel agents indeed may have at their fingertips routine cost of air ticketing, hotel rates or certain vacation packages available and will be happy to provide the price information to you instantly when asked. But once your travel request will need to be somewhat customized, whether tailored to your dates of travel or your other travel preferences, to find a relevant answer will be time consuming. Because of this time element involved, do not automatically assume an agency is keen to spend the time to furnish the information you seek when there is no commitment you will travel at all.Look at the situations from the following perspective. In the old days if you had a problem with your car, you’d drive it to your neighborhood car mechanic and asked him to see what was wrong with it. You would drop the car off at the garage, the mechanic would have a look and tell you what the problem was. He would also give you an estimate and it was up to you to decide if you wanted him to fix it right then and there, wait or seek another opinion and another quote. His services cost you nothing.But not anymore. These days, no garage, no car repair mechanic is willing to spend time trying to find out what’s the problem with your vehicle without charging you at least one hour labor upfront. Pay and he will look and tell you. Up to you if you will decide to take your car to another shop or have him fix it, he has covered his time spent diagnosing what’s wrong with your car.Similarly, many travel agencies and professional travel planners and tour operators will charge you an upfront travel planning fee if you are requesting travel arrangements that first of all are time consuming, or there is no guarantee you will book anything. All you are after are essentially private tailor-made travel arrangement s and there are no simple answers or options to give you, and the only way to find out will be for the agent to dig and consult all sorts of different sources he has at this disposal and then present the travel alternatives to you for you to decide upon.When working with a travel agent, travel planner or any other travel professional such as a knowledgeable destination specialist, keep in mind that a certain protocol will assure you will get not only the kind of travel arrangements you want in general but also you’ll gain a true partner that will always work in your best interest whether you’ll travel away from home on business or for pleasure.1. First of all, when contacting a travel agent, whether in person or online, don’t hesitate to give them your name – don’t worry, most agents won’t spam you back. Without your name when you’re asking for a valuable travel advice most agents won’t take your request too seriously. Call if you wish but most agents prefer not to take notes, email is a way to go and for an agent to look up a fare often a time means he has to plug in a name, so might as well that name will be your real name. If you decide not to accept the booking the reservation will expire and no harm done. If you decide later to purchase the reservation the agent does not have to rekey it into the system all over again.2. If you’re trying to be you own travel agent, even in part, say you plan to book your own hotels online, disclose it to the agent your are contacting for assistance, he/she may still be interested to help you with the rest of your travel arrangements. Don’t hide your intentions from the agent as agents don’t like to be used for information gathering purposes only.3. If at all possible, always contact your travel agent or destination specialist as soon as you know when and where you wish to travel, not last minute before your intended departure. That is even more important when you’re planning a trip to a lesser frequented destination.4. Don’t book your flights and hotels online and ask a travel agent to do the rest, namely the difficult parts, such as complex transportation connections, travel arrangements in remote locations or to book segments that you just feel are not safe for you to book online yourself. Give your agent to design and book your entire trip for you. The worst you can do is design your own vacation package, then copy and email the same request to dozen different agents to see who may be the lowest bidder. Yes, the internet is perfect for that kind of information gathering but look at this from a perspective of a travel agent. If he/she knows you are sending the same request to dozen agents many of them will not be too interested in dealing with you. Then again, telling them the truth they will appreciate knowing what you are doing and approach the whole thing quite differently and in the end they just might offer you a deal.5. If you’re after booking shoe-string cost of travel, for example wishing to book the lowest type of accommodations, best be your own travel agent. Do realize that agents can’t book services that are simply too cheap to begin with, not to mention that that kind of suppliers do not pay agent s any kind of commission. The agent may still help you but keep in mind he will be doing you a favor and will be working for you at no charge. If so, appreciate it, email your thank you.Do realize that to ask an agent million questions, get all the answers, including time consuming quotes, only for you to never replay again is definitely rude and turns agents off completely. If you are polite and respectful many will often work without any commitment on your part, providing you with information you need, working for free. But because of those that just siphon info out of agents so they could possibly book travel on their own leaves not only a sour taste in agent’s mouth but certainly induces the decision to charge au upfront planning fees when a next inquiry comes.6. On another hand, when it comes to upper end accommodations keep in mind these hotels routinely offer discounts to agents that agents can markup and still offer you room costs below hotel rack rates. Genuine agent is not interested in selling you a higher end hotel in order to make a higher commission but to tailor in a better trip experience for you where he deems it desirable.7. Keep in mind that there is a difference between a travel agent and a so called Destination Specialist. Most travel agents use online reservation systems to book transportation, hotel and vacation packages. They essentially book or resell ready-to-sell travel offers from a variety of suppliers that do not require more than filling in your name and dates of travel. When it comes to you needing customized arrangements, they will need to contact tour operators and destination specialists that are either part of their consortium or a network they belong to. Depending on the connections they have they will or will not be able to help you.8. Destination Specialists pride themselves in really knowing their destinations. Many of them have indeed not only traveled extensively but know a particular destination inside-out so they can arrange travel logistics for you based on knowing, rather than looking it up in a brochure or some kind of data base. Many Destination Specialists specialize in difficult, custom designed itineraries and do not sell travel packages. Often a time though not always that kind of service reflects higher markup.9. Last, please note that many destination specialists as well as travel agents work 110 or more hours per week because especially custom-design travel is indeed very time consuming. Being good at travel logistics does take experience and while with the internet it seems second nature to be able to arrange travel on your own, many travel professional are indeed very good at what they do! They do know more about travel than you, give them a chance, they can save you not only money but also many headaches and above all, they can assure not only that you’ll travel worry-free but that you may have a trip of your life! Keep in mind, a good agent is not after selling you a single ticket or a package tour, they want you to become a repeat client, their go-to-travel processional for rest of your life.
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The New Economy Real Estate Model – A Soft Sell Concept | Real Estate

As far back as the 1970′s Sears envisioned a kiosk in their stores where a customer could buy stock and even real estate. It was a bold look at the future from one of the world’s largest retailers. All they had to do was to get the consumer to come to their stores to do business. This was quite a challenge thrown down to both Wall Street and Main Street USA. Most of us probably never heard or remember this strategy, and it never got off the ground. People just did not equate Sears with stock or real estate; they were a department store.In fairness to Sears, the technologies and conveniences did not exist to enable the plan. Sears may have also thought themselves too big to fail. That theme does seem to be a constant.Hmm, it appears that history does indeed repeat itself, and perhaps at shorter and shorter intervals. It may be ironic that by speeding up processes and the rate at which things can change, the lessons of history are lost at a quicker rate. Did that make sense? If it did, you may be thinking a bit like me – you’ve been cautioned.In the 1980′s the successful real estate agent became more independent and needed fewer and fewer services from the brokerage firm. As they claimed a higher and higher portion of the brokerage fee, margins for the real estate brokerage began to shrink. Some phenomenally high interest rates had a similar impact on the mortgage banking industry. Unless buyers had no choice, they did not take on these inflated mortgages. The mortgage industry literally shrunk along with their profit margins. We all know that real estate cycles; it goes up and it goes down. The curve is rarely smooth, and is punctuated by sharp turns in one direction or another. Most features of the real estate industry react quickly to the conditions in the market that affect it. Now we have the background for the next attempt to create a commodities market from the real estate process.In 1974, the Real Estate Settlement and Procedures Act (RESPA), as amended, was passed. It opened the door for consolidations within the industry. To foster competition, companies were regulated to prevent abuses in the industry and to keep prices to the consumer lower. It was almost ironic that the very act that was passed to prevent abuses, in a way opened the door. I don’t know that it has empirically been demonstrated that RESPA actually lowered costs or prevented abuses. With HUD as a watchdog, there was little real enforcement, and although fines were levied, industry practices ultimately were left to the states to manage. It took decades to sort it out, and Wall Street only a few months to make it yesterday’s issue.The point for mentioning RESPA was that it allowed what was called “controlled business entities,” a term later changed to “affiliated business entities.” The home builder and the real estate brokerage could now have a captive mortgage and title business. The theory was that this would somehow create efficiencies and economies lowering the cost and improve service to the consumer. It didn’t. With all of this vertical integration, each one of the independently managed businesses was caught in the same financial wringer.What was not taken into consideration was the pro-cyclical nature of the model. When one business was down so were the others. The upside was champagne and roses, but the downside left little room for beer and carnations. There were other oversights as well. Not understanding the risk models for businesses outside of their core competencies was seldom given the focus it deserved. Few also embraced managing the business with the same zeal they had for their core model.The result was that many of these affiliated arrangements have failed, and the industry model for how transactions are managed remains much the same as it has since the post WWII era. Certainly technology has improved systems, but not nearly to the extent that it could. The competitive natures of the individual sectors of the real estate business keep the technologies proprietary and therefore parochial. A 21st Century model for the industry will come from somewhere outside of the core real estate industry. Next came a far a more organized and systematic attempt to create a commodity market in the real estate arena.The boldest strategy to commoditize the residential real estate market came from a company called National Realty Trust (NRT). NRT has gone through a number of name changes. In the mid to late 1990s NRT was known as Cendant (CD). The CEO of Cendant, Henry Silverman was a Wall Street visionary who understood commodities. He was big in the rental car business (Avis) and in hospitality with a string of motel franchises. Mr. Silverman viewed the real estate as a commodity that could be franchised and methodically went about acquiring national real estate marks such as Coldwell Banker (Residential), Century 21, ERA and Sotheby’s. Subsequently they also acquired established regional real estate companies. They were and remain the largest single group of real estate companies in the industry.Cendant experienced an accounting scandal in the last decade and lost its impetus. It never quite recovered from the scandal, and the company divided its assets into four groups. The real estate companies were sold to the Apollo Management Group. Apollo has been beset by the soft real estate market and a suit filed by Carl Icahn over a debt exchange plan. With the continuing financial and legal problems, they stumble along with business as usual. They are not in a position to lead the real estate industry into the 21st Century. This strategy involved getting in upstream in the transaction by “owning” the gatekeeper function. It required enormous amounts of capital, and technology was evolving to provide a far more efficient less capital intensive platform to emerge. The Internet makes anyone with the vision and the concept to be a potential player.Allow me to introduce Soft Sell Solutions LLC, a creative concept for the 21st Century model for real estate. Forged with decades of experience and inside industry knowledge, the concept is supportable by existing technology, demonstrated consumer practice and buy in. The vision and passion to deliver a seamlessly integrated system stands ready to tie the disparate process together.The third article in this series Who Controls the Real Estate Process sets the stage for a 21st Century approach.
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