Updated: Oct 13, 2022
By Luis Velasquez
Do travel agencies still exist? This is a question that many of the readers of this article may have, especially in this era in which almost everything can be found on the Internet through social media and travel apps. And contrary to what one may think, travel agencies have actually been increasing in the last few years, except for 2020 due to the pandemic, at least in the US (IBISWorld, 2021). It is a fact that if you would like to travel you can find almost all the required information on the internet by yourself, on travel blogs, in YouTube videos, or on websites specialized in traveling. However, many people still use travel agencies and there are many reasons why hiring the services of one when you travel could be the most convenient thing to do. In this article, I’ll explain some of the most important things about them.
Before the existence of the internet for public use, one had to go to a travel agency or call their travel agent to purchase a ticket and perhaps also buy tour packages. Nowadays, you can do this same thing in a matter of minutes with a connection to the internet and a credit card. However, there are still things that are not so easy to deal with if you do it all by yourself.
If you are a person who does not have a lot of time to keep an eye out for deals on flight fares every day, to check the travel requirements, and to read all the details about the destination, you may consider hiring a travel agent. They will take care not only of looking for the best flight fares according to your needs, but they will also have the most up to date information on travel restrictions and requirements (which has become even more important with the COVID restrictions).
Hiring the services of a travel agent can save you from last-minute surprises, a big headache and actually hundreds of dollars. For example, if you are new to purchasing flight tickets online, you may forget to add luggage or do the web check-in. A good travel agent will inform you about all that you need to know at the moment of the purchase. Many of them also include web check-in service, so that when you are at the airport you may simply check your luggage and you don’t need to worry about extra processes at the last minute, for which some carriers will actually charge very high fees.
If you purchase your ticket via any carrier or travel website and find yourself in an emergency, hardly ever will you find the immediate and personalized assistance that you will need. You may end up on a chat with a chatbot who will not understand the urgency of the situation, or worse, being on hold listening to a “relaxing” melody for more than 30 minutes until someone answers your call. On the other hand, when you purchase the ticket through a travel agent, you know you will be dealing with a human who knows you and will treat you as a human as well. Someone that you will be able to turn to in the case of needing assistance. Travel agents usually have better methods to get a hold of the airline customer service channels or they have the capacity of solving your needs by themselves.
Many people prefer purchasing tickets online because they say that fares are cheaper online, but this is not always true. Travel agencies, on many occasions, have access to special offers or can add tour packages with discounts to your travel itinerary. Even though travel agencies may charge you for extra services like travel consultancy and assistance during your trip, in most occasions the extra costs are worth it, mainly for peace of mind as previously mentioned.
In Ecuador, in order to exist, all travel agencies must first register with the Ministry of Tourism and receive authorization from the municipality in which they are located. These documents must always be in a visible area when visiting a tourist agency. This ensures that the agency completed a series of processes to be authorized to offer tour and travel services. The registry of the Ministry of Tourism will show the type of agency they are authorized to work as.
According to the Ecuadorian Law there are four types of tourist service agencies, which are as follows:
1) Travel Wholesalers: Travel Wholesalers do not sell directly to people. They only sell to International Travel Agencies and Dual Travel Agencies. They sell tour packages negotiated with tour service providers in different destinations to offer the best prices to travel agencies that will sell directly to travelers.
2) International Travel Agencies: The classic travel agency that sells tickets and assists with travel consultancy for destinations all around the world. In Ecuador it is very common for travel agencies to also provide assistance with obtaining tourist visas. The most in-demand are the USA Tourist Visa (type B1/B2) and the Schengen Visa (short-stay).
3) Tour Operators: The companies that take care of creating, developing and operating tours within Ecuador. They are focused on domestic and inbound tourism. They do not sell flight tickets directly, but can sell tour packages in Ecuador that include flight tickets.
4) Dual Travel Agencies: These are agencies that have the faculties of International Travel Agencies and Tour operators at the same time.
In conclusion, if you are a traveler with experience and have the time for researching and preparing your trip in detail, you might not need a travel agency. However, if, for assurance, you prefer the old-school style of going to a physical travel agency and speaking with a person that you know will be able to take care of you in case of any issue, purchasing through a travel agency will be worth it.