Select a travel agency? 4 things to know

So you are thinking about traveling again? You are not alone. The pandemic may not be over yet, but the expansion of vaccination eligibility in the U.S. – barring hiccups, delays and pauses – and news that the European Union will open up to vaccinated travelers are inspiring many to plan a real summer vacation , or even take the plunge in booking bucket-list adventures.

Travel, however, remains anything but simple. The virus is finding new footprints around the world, leaving ever-changing rules and restrictions in its wake (and all of this is compounded by a range of rental homes, rental cars and more). It's a reality that has inspired many do-it-yourselfers to work with a travel agent or travel consultant for the first time, hoping to skip the stress of planning a trip and instead focus on actually relaxing on vacation.

Most travel advisors provide their services to clients for free (though some charge a booking fee, which can range from $25 to $100 depending on the complicated trip) and instead make their money from commissions from hotels and tour operators , cruise lines, airlines and other travel companies.

Finding the right advisor for you is "like finding a hairdresser," said Erika Richter, senior communications director for ASTA, the American Society of Travel Advisors. "You want someone who understands your personal style."

Ms. Richter, along with Misty Belles, managing director of global public relations for Virtuoso, an international travel agency network specializing in luxury travel, offered tips on how to find an advisor who understands you and your dream trip.

Start your search close to home

Start by asking trusted friends and family members for recommendations. "The same goes for any professional service in your life," said Ms. Belles. "If you know someone who has worked with a travel consultant and was happy with the experience, that's a good place to start."

If this is a no-go (or if your friends and family, while loved, don't have the same travel style as you), Ms. Richter strongly recommended seeking out local businesses where you live.

"Supporting small businesses in our communities is more important than ever right now," she said. ASTA has a directory where you can search for consultants in your area. A quick Google search will likely do the trick, too, Ms. Richter said.

Think about where you want to go

Another way to find a travel consultant is to look for one based on one or more destinations in which they specialize. Are you interested in traveling to a specific Caribbean island nation? You probably want to work with a consultant who has booked a number of trips in that country and has connections and contacts there. Some counselors specialize in trips to Disney resorts. Others focus on cruises. If you are interested in planning a trip outside their jurisdiction, consultants may refer you to someone else in their network or do the high-performance research themselves.

"Choosing someone who specializes in a destination is a good first attempt at working with a travel advisor," Ms. Belles said. "But if you work with the same consultant for a while, they will become a specialist for you."

Consider their professional networks

When talking about what you want, it can be helpful to understand the organization or organizations a consultant is affiliated with. Whether they work on their own, with a partner in a small business or as part of a large agency, they are likely to be affiliated with a consortium or professional network like Virtuoso, which consists of more than 1.000 agencies in 50 countries exists the world or ASTA itself.

"Of course I represent ASTA, but I think it's important to look at a consultant's professional affiliations," Ms. Richter said. Memberships can serve as a vote of confidence that the consultant has been vetted. It also gives you recourse if you are unhappy with your relationship (ASTA can handle consumer complaints, for example, and be part of the settlement process). Some consortiums specialize in a particular type of travel. Virtuoso agencies focus, for example, on luxury travel, while others adventure travel or family travel, etc. Highlight.

A consultant's affiliation also acts as a conduit for one of their main selling points: the benefits to travelers.

"Ask them what benefits they get from their professional networks," Ms. Richter said. "Upgrades, free breakfast, late check-out when available – who wouldn't want some of these giveaways?"

Make sure your consultant understands your travel style

Do you like leisurely, slow travels? Packed itineraries full of sights and attractions? Do you like to travel alone or plan trips with several generations with children and grandparents? Making sure your advisor understands what you want – and perhaps even finding that they have a similar travel style themselves – can go a long way toward building rapport (and allow them to plan an even better trip for you).

Some important questions: do they charge a planning fee? What are some examples of trips they have planned in the past?

"Be really upfront about your budget for a trip and make sure this is something that can help you get the most out of you," said Ms. Richter.

Ms. Belles suggested asking the consultant how they personally like to travel and what their favorite destinations are.

"Interview them a bit! You can see if there are some similarities there ", she said. But make sure they ask you just as many questions.

"If not, that should be a red flag," said Ms. Belles. "A consultant should try to find out exactly what you want as a traveler."