Modern Travel Agents Make a Comeback
A travel agent can help you take in nature’s stunning mountain landscape from Amangiri, a luxury hotel in Canyon Point, Utah.
There was a time when you wouldn’t dare book a vacation without a travel agent. Fast forward 30 years and times have changed. Now everyone is their own expert and we’re relying on complete strangers and impersonal websites to tell us where to vacation.
If you’ve ever been burned booking a trip online, you know the value of doing your research on top of what anyone tells you. That’s why there’s a trend to return to experts like Peggy Honore, a local travel consultant.
Prior to starting her own business, Honore enjoyed a successful career in human-resource management for Fortune 500 companies and traveled frequently for work. While Honore and her husband have always considered themselves avid travelers, it wasn’t until they lived abroad in Zurich that they fully understood the depth of their own wanderlust. “Nearly every weekend, my husband and I would venture through Europe,” explains Honore. “I really enjoyed planning our trips and began to plan for family and friends.”
When her family returned stateside, Honore enrolled in “Work Like A Mother,” a course at the Wilton YMCA geared toward stay-at-home moms looking to re-enter the work force. The course helped her decide that she wanted to own a sales-related business. After thorough research, she discovered a franchise opportunity with Cruise Planners.
“Travel can be expensive,” she says. “People want to get it right the first time around and make the most of their vacation time.”
When working with new clients, she asks about their top destinations, what kind of travelers they are—and of course—budget. Honore urges clients not to be afraid to set a budget as it’s an integral part of planning. “I can work around any budget,” says Honore. “Booking in advance is key to success. The early bird definitely gets the worm.”
Honore believes her time abroad offers a clear advantage when planning trips to Europe. Like other travel advisors, Honore travels to popular destinations based on where she sees interest to stay educated and current for her clients. “I make it a point to travel to destinations on my clients’ radar,” explains Honore, who has vacationed in Hawaii the past two summers for research, and most recently to Alaska and Iceland, both of which remain popular destinations. This summer, Honore is cruising the Greek Islands and the Amalfi Coast. She also visits Disney World every year, another beast in itself. She returns with new tips for her clients every time.
“I cruise all the different lines so I can offer honest advice,” adds Honore, who previously seldom cruised. “In the last three years, I’ve been on two river cruises and seven ocean cruises.”
Another woman who knows a thing or two about travel is Weston resident Elisa Carbone Brown, a mother of three and a luxury travel expert for Passported, a female-run boutique agency based in Tribeca. “Anyone can book a hotel online,” explains Brown, who also writes content for her agency’s web site, passported.com. “Where we add value is through ‘destination insight’ and our access to insider perks like food, beverage and spa credits, upgrades, and complimentary breakfast.”
Insider tips, coupled with the strong relationships agents have with hoteliers and tour operators, are each travel agent’s proverbial “special sauce.” It’s this information that can transform a vacation into an unforgettable experience—and is certainly not something one can glean from an online travel web site.
These days, travel agents get paid by hotels, cruises, and tour operators. Rather than charge a flat fee, most agents bill clients for certain “concierge” levels of service. If the client requests an itinerary outlining daily activities, tours and restaurant reservations, for example, that’s an additional cost.
During our interview, Brown attended to client requests. She booked a private boat ride on Lake Powell at Utah’s sought-after property Amangiri, and secured a room at Nobu Ryokan, an exclusive ocean-front boutique hotel in Malibu that’s right next door to its namesake sushi restaurant. “You might not be able to get a reservation at the hottest new hotel or restaurant, but there’s a good chance I can make it happen,” explains Brown. “I don’t give up easily.”
Brown’s Instagram feed would make anyone envious. Already in 2018, she’s “glamped” (glam + camp) in the Moroccan desert, swam with the Swimming Pigs in the Bahamas, and taken a dip in Iceland’s famous Blue Lagoon. Trips to Greece, Italy, Japan, and Vietnam are in the works.
While outsiders might think a travel agent’s life is all fun and games, the reality is that it’s a full-time job and then some. “I’m working around the clock scouting new hotels, restaurants, spas, shops, and epic adventures to compile insider tips,” explains Brown. “I’m away from my family for days at a time, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”