The main function of any travel agency is to, of course, act as an agent. This includes selling tickets and travel products, reservations, and so on, on behalf of one or several suppliers. Travel agents generally work with no charge to the traveler him or herself. Rather, the travel agent takes a small commission from the overall cost. Again, this isn’t added on top of the sale or anything like that. Rather, their commission is taken out of the advertised price.
So why go through a travel agent? Well, besides the simplicity and convenience, the main draw is that travel agents receive tickets at significant discounts.
This is pretty much how travel agencies work the world over. However, there are a few different types of travel agents…
General Sales Agents for Foreign Travel Companies
A general sales agent is something like a tourism ambassador. A company with its headquarters located in, say, Japan, might set up travel agency offices all around the world to encourage tourism to the country where their headquarters is located. The travel agent will still seek to find better deals for their customers (as, after all, that’s what turns a customer into a return customer), so they are not indebted to any one airline or hotel, but, they do tend to focus strictly on travel to, and within, the country where their headquarters is located.
Business and Commercial Travel Agencies
Most travel agencies have a department of business travel and a department of leisure travel. The needs for one traveler and the other tend to vary in a few significant ways, and so, splitting up the duties amongst a couple of departments can help to allow either department to specialize, finding better deals for business travelers on the one hand, and better deals for leisure travelers on the other. However, there are also travel agencies that specialize strictly in business and commercial travel. Incidentally, there aren’t a whole lot of agencies that restrict themselves solely to leisure travel.
In the United States, there are several main types of travel agencies: corporate-owned national chains, national/international franchises, membership associations — such as AAA — and independent, locally owned travel agencies with no brand or corporate affiliation. National chains will have the most consistent policies and pricing not matter where you go, and often the best international “hotline” customer service, but not always. Big-name franchises offer similar perks but different local owners can opt out of certain promotions and pricing specials. Membership-based associations are often less commission-focused since they rely on member fees. Independent agencies tend to cater to niche markets, such as assisting sports teams, church and school groups looking for inexpensive travel, and large group options.
Cargo Travel Agencies
A few travel agencies specialize in shipping cargo. Of course… that’s not entirely relevant if you’re looking to fly for business or personal reasons. Still, this should go to show how many different areas an individual agency can specialize in.
Online Travel Agencies
One of the real boons to the travel agency industry has been the use of the internet to allow travel agents to let their travelers compare a wide variety of options for hotels and airline tickets. Ironically, there was some fear for a period of time that, by selling tickets directly to travellers, the travel agencies would go out of business. However, a handful of travel agencies have proven that, even if you can find good deals yourself, there are still instances where a travel agency can find you an even better one. Many traditional bricks-and-mortar travel agencies now have full-service web sites so that you can get the best of both worlds: convenience of self-serve online booking with the benefit of talking to a real person when you need it.
Multi-Destination and Niche Agencies
If you want to split it up into just two types of travel agency, you have multi-destination and niche. Multi-destination out-bound travel agencies are usually larger, offering flights to just about anywhere. Niche agencies are usually independent, and focus on one specific part of the world. If you’re flying to say, Greece, you might find a niche agent who knows the area very, very well. Most of these niche agencies cater mainly to people with family in that country, or who do business there on a regular basis.
Consider your individual needs, preferences, and trip objectives when choosing your travel agent. Different types of agencies provide different levels and types of services. If you are a frequent globe trotter, you may want to use a large corporate travel agency with many branches in countries all over the world. Or you may view travelling as a treasure hunt or puzzle, where researching and finding the most off-the-map places is half of the fun. If this is the case, a niche operator may be just the right travel partner for you.