Trip planning via the Internet can be risky business. Travel agencies can help travelers avoid risks. The traveler who surfs the Internet for bargains risks “hangin’ ten” on a bench in an airport waiting room if the flight he or she keyed in happens to be over-booked.
“It happens all too often, and then who are you going to call,” said Sandy Collins, leisure manager for the Cascade Village Center office of DeVries Travel Agency, formerly International Tours and Cruises, in Grand Rapids. Collins, a flight attendant for 16 years before landing in the travel business in 1988, owned the agency before selling it to DeVries in 2002, when it was renamed. It’s one of three DeVries Travel Agencies in the Grand Rapids area.
“We’re here for the person who wants to travel fairly worry-free and has better things to do than sit for hours surfing the Internet for the cheapest fares, which can change by the second.
“The Internet is for the kind of person who likes to fly by the seat of his pants and doesn’t particularly care when or how he gets where he’s going. A myriad of things can go wrong and when you get home and add up your receipts, I dare say you will have spent more in terms of missed connections, lost reservations and so forth than you would have if you’d gone through an agency.”
Collins said travel prices, which have held fairly steady for the last few years, aren’t determined by specific seasons or other traditional factors.
“It’s not like it was in the old days. There are no summer fares. Prices are determined by how many seats are available on a particular flight. We can find the best price for seats depending on how many are left.”
Collins said it’s difficult to predict travel trends, but a few old favorites never seem to go out of style.
“Alaska and Hawaii are always very popular, as is Europe,” said Collins, who advised a trip to London for the first-time overseas tourist.
Scandinavia, the Czech Republic, Russia and the Baltic Countries – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, have also become popular travel locations in recent years.
“We try to have an itinerary planned out for our clients before they go, depending on their likes and dislikes and what they’re looking for. That’s why when a person comes in, we don’t ask ‘what tour do you want to go on.’ We ask a lot of questions first to find a tour that matches their personality.’
Traveling with a tour group offers a variety of advantages, according to Collins.
“In countries where travel is restricted – Russia, or China, for example, you may not have to have a visa if you’re traveling with a group,” she said.
“A tour is also nice if you want a little camaraderie, and you don’t want to worry about the area you’re in, or about choosing a place to stay or eat. Everything’s taken care of for you,” she said.
Michelle Boyd, owner of Signal Travel and Tours, Inc., St. Joseph, MI, said misconceptions abound regarding tour groups.
“Going on a tour doesn’t mean you have to be with the same group of people all the time. It just means your trip is packaged with a car or transfers to the airport and hotel and some sight-seeing included. Otherwise, you can be on your own, or part of the group, depending on your preference.”
Both Collin’s and Boyd’s agencies are members of the American Express Travel Services network, which offers a variety of travel benefits, including preferred hotel and car rental rates and cruise and tour discounts.