How the humble travel agent got glamorous
It worked for Antony Jones and Mandy Coombs, who are currently on an eight-week, post-early retirement trip across North America organized by Carla Deakin at Not Just Travel in Christchurch (notjusttravel.com). Among the things on their itinerary are a cruise from Banff, a trip on the Rocky Mountaineer, a drive along Route 66, trips to long-forgotten ghost towns, and a sojourn at one of the oldest hotels in Oklahoma.
“I’d organized a lot of trips myself previously, but we have a fair few friends who’ve lost money during Covid,” says Coombs. “A couple of our own trips have also been canceled but, because we’d booked through Carla, we knew we could get our money back.” This time round, when British Airways canceled their flight from Heathrow to Calgary via Chicago, Deakin managed to reroute them via Dallas at no extra cost.
Not Just Travel is part of Hays (haystravel.com), the High Street behemoth with more than 400 shops, but Deakin tailor-made the couple’s itinerary rather than lifting it straight from a brochure, adding downtime to a packed agenda and personally recommending some of the hotels. It’s a reflection of the changes within the group as a whole: aware that people’s holiday tastes have shifted in the four decades since it first opened, Hays used the pandemic to better gauge what people want from a travel agent, now offering bespoke trips alongside once -in-a-lifetime experiences, such as seeing orang-utans in Borneo or heading to Machu Picchu.
For Jones and Coombs, aside from the action-packed itinerary, one of the most astonishing pluses of booking through an agent has been the money they’ve saved. “We look at the online prices for the hotels we’re staying at, and the difference is mind-blowing,” says Coombs.
The reason for these savings? Hotels and tour operators often release special deals to agents that the public never sees. It might mean 10 per cent off the best available web rate for the Standard Hotel chain, or prices on selected packages from Intrepid Travel, for example. Some new agents, such as Ultimate Travel Club (ultimatetravelclub.com), have been set up specifically to make the most of these.