Travel tips

Travel agents: a blast from the past?

Courtesy State Library & Archives of Florida, via Flickr Commons

Courtesy State Library & Archives of Florida, via Flickr Commons

(My story about Travel Agents first appeared on NBC News Travel)

It often happens on Mondays.

“I get calls from people who say ‘I spent all weekend online trying to work out a trip and you this is exactly what I need,” said travel consultant Sheri Doyle, the Seattle-based owner of Pacific Northwest Journeys.

Doyle specializes in creating itineraries for travelers heading to Oregon, Washington and British Columbia – and beyond – and finds that many of her clients are travelers frustrated by the overload of information on Expedia, TripAdvisor and other online travel sites and who want to be sure they are making good decisions about how to spend vacation days – and making good use of their time.

“It’s time versus money. A lot of people just don’t have the time or the expertise to plan a trip and do it well,” said Doyle, and they find value in paying a fee for the knowledge of someone who has actually stayed at the hotels, visited the sites and can negotiate good rates and extra perks.

Travelers who have found occasion to turn from the web to an agent include Alyne Ellis, a writer and radio producer from Washington D.C. who was planning a trip to Rome, Venice and Croatia with her husband, who had never been to Europe.

“We were overwhelmed with the logistics as we only had a few days in Rome and Venice and wanted to be near everything,” said Ellis. With the help of an agent, “We stayed in some of the nicest places ever and they all seemed very local in their feeling, at our request,” she said.

Karen Wickre, an internet industry veteran and founder of KVOX Media, relies on a travel adviser who can “see competitive pricing and scheduling,” when planning complex trips outside the U.S.

On a two week, multi-city visit to Spain and Portugal, Wickre and a friend figured chose the hotels and length of stays in each city, but turned to the agent to book flights, trains and airport transfers.

“All the travel documents and details were in one itinerary,” said Wickre, “They even have an app we could look at along the way. And it was easy to pay one bill to the agent.”

These experiences fit with the trend noted in a June 2016 report by the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA), which surveyed 14,000 U.S. households and found that, despite the rise of online travel agents (OTAs), in the previous year 22 percent of consumers booked through a travel agent, the highest share reported in the past three years.

In its most recent Portrait of American Travelers survey, travel industry research and marketing firm MMGY found the use of travel agents at a six-year high, with more than 9 million U.S. travelers planning to call on a travel professional to help book a trip this year.

“The higher the ticket price of the travel being purchased, the more likely they were to turn to a professional travel advisor,” noted the Travel Market Report in its review of the study.

“If anything, a good travel counselor is more relevant today than ever before,” said Grayce Walters, a travel agent with Maupin Travel which has a storefront in Raleigh, North Carolina.

“Ten years ago we were worried about the internet and all the sites that were popping up, but I’m seeing a lot more people – especially young people – who come to us when planning big trips,” said Walters, “Sometimes people say, ‘I can do it myself,’ but then they get into it, it gets complicated and they call me and are happy to pay a fee. When I save them money on the overall trip, I get a customer for life.”

Jack Ezon, a luxury leisure travel consultant with Ovation Travel, calls that the boomerang effect.

“There’s so much information out there that it makes it more difficult to do your own research now. So we serve as matchmakers, listening to clients, and finding what’s right for them,” said Ezon.

And, increasingly, ‘what’s right’ is also ‘special.’

“Younger millennials want the VIP treatment, to be on the other side of the velvet rope. Older millennials are planning honeymoons, having kids, and wanting to create unique experiences,” said Ezon. “And it’s not just Millennials, increasingly Baby Boomers and Gen Xers are acting like Millennials and looking for savvy travel advisors that can make things happen.”



#NoFilter Frankfurt with London City Airport


London City Airport contacted me a few months back to ask if I’d be a judge for the latest chapter of a photography contest they host called “#NoFilter.”

Having been on an enjoyable and educational all-area tour of London City Airport  a while back, and knowing that the airport is innovative in its social media projects, I of course said yes.

I was even more interested when I learned that photos and blog posts I’d be judging would be featuring travel photography from Frankfurt – which is home to another airport I’ve had the pleasure of touring.

The #NoFilterFrankfurt contest asked a group of bloggers to share photos of the city with no Instagram-type filters applied.

Here’s a selection of some of the best photos from the competition, along with some of the #NoFilter photography tips and advice for visiting Frankfurt.

All the entries were great and it was difficult to pick just one winner, but you’ll see my top pick at the end.

Yolande’s #NoFilter Frankfurt


On Chronicles of Yoyo, Yolande suggests that time-pressed tourists “hop on the Ebbelwei-Express, which brings you on an hour-long journey to cover all the main sights in Frankfurt.”

Kate’s #NoFilter Frankfurt


Along with her Frankfurt photos on Relokate, Kate said that the contest not only gave her a chance to “go out and capture the beauty of Frankfurt,” but taught her that “the ‘A’ setting on my camera would automatically adjust the aperture, which I found worked best given the sunlight I was working with in most of them.”

Menorca’s #NoFilter Frankfurt


In her Europe Diaries, Menorca noted that “Frankfurt is such a city of contrasts,” with “all the skyscrapers, banks and financial institutions, and …history, old architecture, plentiful museums and parks.”

Lauren’s #NoFilter Frankfurt


On Belle du Brighton , Lauren’s suggested that “looking at your surroundings from different angles can really help to get a good photo without the need to edit. Sit on the ground, look at the ground! Get high up, whatever works! Thankfully in this day and age of digital photography you can snap away till you get the perfect photo, and sometimes the ones that you think won’t turn out okay are the best ones!”

John’s #NoFilter Frankfurt


On Continental Breakfast Travel, John let loose about those love locks. “I’ll be honest, I hate the things (and was very pleased the other week when they were removed from Pont des Arts Bridge in Paris) but I’ll admit: they do take a very good photo. I particularly like how the locks in the foreground make a heart-shape. Or at least I would if I wasn’t such a bitter person.”

Tom’s #NoFilter Frankfurt:


And on Anita’s Feast, this photo of a unusual subway station entrance by Tom really caught my attention.

“The entrance depicted against a backdrop of a modern high-rise building shows that this is ‘city art.’ Keeping the background mostly in focus allows you to see the details of the buildings,” said Tom.

This was the winning image I chose for the competition, in part because it shows two very different sides of Frankfurt: the sleek architecture associated with city’s financial reputation, alongside what is clearly a fun, artistic vibe.

Thanks London City Airport, for asking me to be a judge for the #NoFilterFrankfurt contest.


(Note: I received a small honorarium for being a judge in the the #NoFilterFrankurt contest.)

Check your suitcase for Chihuahuas

On the TSA Blog each Friday you’ll find a report on the firearms, weapons and other prohibited – and often really strange – things found at airport checkpoints and in checked bags.


This week, for example, the TSA found 55 firearms at airport checkpoints. 51 of those firearms were loaded and 13 had rounds chambered.

The fact that so many people just ‘forget’ they’ve got a gun, especially a loaded gun, in their carry-on is always alarming. But Friday’s report that TSA officers at New York’s LaGuardia Airport found a chihuahua inside a checked bag is mostly amusing.

According to the TSA, officers found the dog inside the suitcase while they were resolving a checked baggage alarm. TSA had the airline track down the suitcase owner, who said she had no idea the dog was in there and that the dog – a 7 year old chihuahua – must have climbed into the suitcase as it was being packed.

Long flight? How to sleep, have fun and get work done

The folks at Air New Zealand have run the numbers, tallied the comments and somehow interpreted the pie charts and pictures from the in-flight focus group about jet-lag (and more) that I participated in on an ANZ flight from Los Angeles to London.

Here’s a handy infographic of our group’s advice on packing, dressing and preparing in-flight activities for a long flight, making the most of the in-flight time and merging seamlessly into the day once you touch down.

air new zealand infographic