It doesn’t matter if you book your own vacations, go to a travel agent or a combination of the two, the first step, where and how, is the most important and where the biggest mistakes are made.
These days, it’s unusual to have someone call or email about booking a vacation from scratch, without any idea of where to go and what to do. Typically, a client will do a lot of their own research and narrow down the destination or area and the type of travel and they want someone to book it for them or they look for the best price.
Sometimes that works and they’ve picked the right destination and method of travel that best matched their personality and interest.
Every time I think about how some clients get it wrong, I’m reminded of Susan and Bill, an exception who gets it right. Travel is a big part of their lives and they have a lot of experience with nearly every type of travel on every continent., They decide where to go based on a specific destination and/or activity and pick the method based on what is best suited to get the most from their destination.
They are the exception.
What happens more often is decisions are made based on online searches, reviews and feedback from family and friends. That isn't a bad thing if it's one piece of the puzzle. The downside is what you want may be completely different from what your best friend likes and even if it's similar, the time of year may be different which can change the entire vacation.
What the internet did with the ability to book travel online is opened up more choices and options and made things more affordable, all great for the consumer. The downside is the first step of planning, what you really want, gets lost with all the distraction online.
Technology has the ability to add value to our lives, make things easier, save time and can connect us to the world but it's a tool not a replacement. When we are using the internet, for example, to book travel or research a vacation, it shouldn't replace the first step, where and how.
The first step in planning, where and how:
Before the internet, a typical vacation would be booked through a travel agent. The first step was never about specifics unless someone had a destination in mind, they wanted to see Europe or travel to Asia for example.
Instead, it was a session of adjectives and images mixed with a little of lifestyle and stresses. A list of wants, wishes, and needs.
It would sound like:
We want to go someplace warm, nice beach with easy access. We want something that has entertainment on-site yet we aren’t pressured participate or overwhelmed with schedules and restricted to certain times.
We like options yet our lives are so busy and over-scheduled, we want options, without giving up on quality.
If we want dinner in our room instead of one of the restaurants, we want that option without being limited to a typical room service menu. We don’t mind dressing up sometimes but we want the freedom to be casual and dine in our beach attire, only required to wear a cover-up.
You get the idea, they are not describing a specific place or type of location. Instead, they are describing a story or a vision of what they want. The travel agent would put it all together and present them with one or two options that fit their needs and once one is agreed on, the agent does the rest.
Today’s planning has none of the adjectives, there’s no story and it’s about details and price.
It doesn’t mean every trip is wrong and nobody gets a great vacation anymore. It means that the possibility of getting a better value and experience is more likely when the first stage is about creating a story versus shopping online.
It doesn’t matter if you book through an agent or on your own, starting with your “story” should be the foundation and the details are how you will best live your story.
Second Step, fill in the details:
Once you have the basics laid out, the next part of the planner is filling in the details.
Where are you going, where will you stay, how will you get there, what is included, what else do you need to arrange. Map it out, step by step so there aren’t any gaps.
If you’re booking a cruise (the most popular choice today), how will you get to the port? Are you flying in and if so, is weather a concern and should you arrive early? What about the hotel, how are from the port and how will you get there.
Make a check list:
The vacation planner should have a checklist of items that need to be worked out or arranged and include everything from documentation needed, transportation (flights/taxis/trains) plus transportation to and from the airport or train station.
You need to have confirmation numbers along with details spelled out and the fine print read and understood.
Timelines, payment due dates and double checking your payments were received. Reconfirming when required or online check-in completed and printed or a screenshot taken.
Next on your travel planner is the activities and day to day schedule while you’re gone. Free time is great but you don’t want to miss something because you didn’t pre-book it or didn’t know about it.
Research your destination, including national holidays and events that could limit what you're shown.
Dining in another area especially another country is part of the fun, but if you’re used to eating early, 6:00 pm for example, and you’re in Italy, it’s going to be hard finding a restaurant open that early so plan accordingly.
Plan out each day so you won’t forget a piece of the puzzle. If you’re traveling by train in Europe and the train departs at 9:00 pm but check-out from the hotel is 11:00am, make sure you have made arrangements for the day and your luggage.
Dress code is another consideration, especially if your plan is to visit religious venues.
Packing and to do list
Finally, create a separate to do list that includes packing items, anything that needs arranging for your home, like mail pick up or hold, water the yard, pay bills in advance and advise neighbors you will be away in case of an emergency. It’s a good idea to give someone a copy of your information, itinerary with contact numbers.
Bringing a copy of identification, medication, and important contact numbers is a good idea.
You can do all these things on your own but why would you? The idea of a vacation is to relax and indulge in your story and that usually doesn’t include the little details, that aren’t so fun.
Doing it on your own
One major drawback to planning on your own is a limited scope of information plus a limit on what you can access directly.
A computer can’t read the nuances or hear the tone in your voice change when something is mentioned that is perfect or not. The computer can only give you what you specifically ask for and you are only able to ask for “black and white” when you may want something else.
A great example of this is looking for airline tickets. You put in the city pairs and look for the best price and you're given a list of options to select from, confident you’ve received the best price.
Instead, searching by different city pairs (using a connection point)or adding a hotel on could drastically change the price.
For example, take a flight from New York to Sydney Australia, round trip.
The lowest price with a connection in LA is $1150 roundtrip-a good price but roundtrip LA is $599 and a flight to LA is $290.
Better yet through a industry only site, a one way to Sydney is $350 (from NY) and a return $400, both in and out of NY with a connection in LA.
Another example is a package I booked for a client going to the Bahamas. There was a promotion offering up to $300 off per package. There were three rooms which had the full discount of $300 however by splitting the rooms up, checking one by one, all three together and finally two on one booking an the other alone, I was able to get $600 off combined by upgrading one room to first class air.
There are times that the price someone finds on line is the best price but doesn't it make sense to have all the information, including access to sites only available through an agent?
Every agent works differently and instead of deciding to use one or not, check with a few agents and see if they work well with what you’re looking for.
Using a computer to book an experience that is about the emotion and feeling is like living in a world that's black and white only.