Saturday 31 December 2016

All hail the travel agent

I hate this woman. Or, rather, I hate the TV ad that this actress appears in so much that I can't grab the remote fast enough to mute her whiny voice. What is even more alienating than that though, is what she's saying, which is dissing travel agents for being lazy, ignorant and incompetent, unable to access flight information that this clever woman can use WebJet to discover instantly.

I think travel agents are wonderful. To be able, as they do, to bring together so much disparate knowledge about places literally all over the world, from nuts and bolts to aspiration/inspiration, tailor it to the client, organise it all into a simple format, and then be there as back-up in case of unpredictable hiccups or even out-and-out disasters - well, that's so very admirable. I've worked with both high-end operations, like World Journeys, World Expeditions and Adventure World, as well as your literal high-street outlet like House of Travel, and have been impressed every time.

This year, for example, it was Marlene at Adventure World who put me in a place and at a time to experience the entire year's most unforgettable moment: standing just metres away from a wild elephant which was straddling the path between the restaurant and the bar at Royal Zambezi lodge in Zambia - a country I'd never even thought of visiting, until she slipped it into my South Africa itinerary.

Travel agents have in the recent past taken me effortlessly to Galapagos, Easter Island, Kakadu, Iguassu Falls, Machu Picchu: the travel so enjoyable because it was so stress-free. I knew I was in the hands of experts, and that everything would go smoothly. And it did.

Compare that with the trips I did this year that were DIY. They were only around NZ and to Tahiti and Hawaii, but the time and effort it took to piece them together, coupled with my perpetual mistrust in the value and workability of the final itinerary really did suck away a lot of the enjoyment of the trips. Instead of being proud of having done it all ourselves, I was suspicious of how much better - and, yes, more cheaply - it all might have been, if done with more inside knowledge and expertise.

So, out of this year's trips - horse-riding the Coromandel Peninsula, self-driving around New Zealand, ditto with exponentially higher stress levels in Louisiana, attending a conference in New Orleans, swanning through South Africa (and Zambia), sunning myself in Tahiti, swimming in Hawaii - it was the ones that were sorted by travel agents that were by far the most satisfying and the most fun. Suck on that, WebJet.

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