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As the pandemic began walloping the world in mid-March, Michael Brooks, a missionary from Tuscumbia, Alabama, and his wife, Brenda, found themselves outside Dhaka, Bangladesh, racing to get home. He contacted his travel adviser, Susan McDougal of Suzqz Travels in Huntsville, Alabama, who spent 48 mostly sleepless hours trying to get them tickets back to the U.S. as borders started to close and flights were being canceled.
Tickets were finally secured less than 15 minutes before the plane doors shut, Brooks says: “We were the last travelers to board the flight.”
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But they made it.
How to Find a Travel Adviser
• Your best bet is always to get recommendations from trusted friends and family members, but if you want to conduct your own search, the American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA) maintains a searchable database of agents matched to your destination or journey type at travelsense.org. Virtuoso's database at virtuoso.com details advisers’ backgrounds and places they've recently visited.
• Most travel agents are generalists, but some specialize. If you're planning a specific kind of trip, such as a safari, consider looking for an expert in that kind of travel through ASTA.
• Schedule an introductory phone call to find out if you and the adviser might work well together. Discuss your interests and see if you have good rapport. You may need to call more than one. Still unsure? Ask for client references.
• Talk money. Ask if there is a fee for services, and whether it is applied to the cost of the trip. Any reputable travel agent will be ready to explain details about fees and what you get in return.
• Discuss your travel budget. If you want luxury but can't afford it, a good travel adviser should be able to steer you to a similar but more affordable destination or hotel or highlight other budget-saving strategies, like a shorter trip or economy flights, to make it work. Don't let them upsell you.
Brooks, an inveterate traveler who, by his count, has taken more than 55 major international trips since 1988, swears by travel advisers (often now the preferred term over travel agent).
"I could not have acquired tickets without the help of a capable and committed agent,” he says.
The spread of COVID-19 around the globe threw the travel industry into a tailspin, and left millions of travelers trying to get home safely, cancel future tours, cruises, flights and hotels and seek refunds on deposits and prepayments. For many, like Brooks, having a travel professional in their corner made a difference.
Experts are working hard to prove their worth
Since the dawn of the internet — which spawned online travel agencies like Expedia and Travelocity and DIY hotel and flight bookings — travel advisers have been fighting for their legitimacy. Many of them, and their clients, now say the pandemic proved their worth.