What is a local travel agent and how can you find the right one to book your holiday?

Want to book a holiday but not sure how? Find out how a local travel agency can help, and how to find the right one.

When planning a trip, it’s important to remember that not all holiday bookings are the same. You can book your holiday via a travel agent, or direct with a tour operator or even direct with the airline and hotel.

If you book with a UK travel agent or tour operator, the holiday should be ATOL protected. And, depending on whether the travel agent Is registered with ABTA, it should also benefit from this protection as well.

In this article, independent travel agent Nicky Woodhatch from Globally Mine shares her expert knowledge on how to get the best help to book your holiday.

What is a local travel agent?

By “local” I basically mean an independent travel agent. And there are many of us around. I personally run under the Hays Group umbrella, which means I have access to the Hays suppliers, but my business is owned and operated solely by me.

Other franchises are Travel Counsellors and Not Just Travel. These great examples of good, and reputable travel agents.

All of these will be small, passionate business leaders who really care about your holiday. The difference in your customer journey between booking with a local agent and one of the large, online companies like Expedia or Love Holidays will be vast!

Using a travel agent that is local to you is great, you can really get to know them and build a relationship. They may well offer in-person appointments, they can go old school and bring you brochures, or just meet for coffee and you can chat holidays!

Why use a local travel agent?

We are living in an increasingly digital age, the world wide web has opened up travel and the world for so many people. But when you are looking at spending £1,000s on your holiday, trying to find the perfect match can be tricky.

Promises of cheap flights, great deals and what appear to be “too good to be true” offers can entice the desperate traveller. We hear horror stories of non-ATOL protected packages, companies going into administration and even people scammed out of £1,000s by scammers posing as travel agents.

As with all things, if it seems too good to be true, or is incredibly cheap, there is probably something you need to be aware of. Many online companies don’t offer full ATOL protection or include terms in their small print, which may mean the deal you are getting, isn’t quite as good as it sounds.

If you are looking at spending £100s, if not £1,000s on your holiday, go to a travel agent you can actually speak to, one you can build a rapport with, one who has been to the resorts and can give you a great lowdown on what you will be getting.

Four benefits of using a local travel agent

Using a local agent has so many benefits, here are just a few.

1) You’ll have more financial protection

Booking with a fully registered ABTA and ATOL-protected supplier means your entire holiday is protected should one part fail.

2) You’ll speak to an actual person, not a call centre

In an age where the computer is king, everybody is streamlining, algorithms rule and the call centre is a staple for the big company, using a local agent will give you an actual, dedicated, real-life person to talk to.

Who needs “press 1 for..” or “please say in a few words what your query is” or holding for hours just to speak to someone who has no idea who you are or what your booking is!

Local agents are passionate, and we really care about our customers. If you need to speak to someone at 9pm as your flight has been cancelled the next day (this happened recently) or you find out just before you leave for the airport that the flight has been cancelled, or maybe there are airport strikes and delays are mounting, being able to pick up the phone and speak to someone who knows you and your booking is priceless.

3) You have access to insider knowledge

We love to travel and invariably have insider knowledge on specific destinations, Google is amazing but can be overwhelming, what one person loves another won’t like, so finding a resort that is perfect for you when you are spending £1,000s is so important.

4) You’ll save money

We have access to 100s of suppliers, we can search the entire market to make sure you get the best deal!  In many cases we can beat online prices, if we can’t, we can usually at least price match, that means you get the price of an online company, but with the small business service!

How to find a local travel agent

Your local agents will advertise locally on social media, so your local Facebook community board is a good place to start. They may also possibly advertise in local publications, but most of us thrive on word of mouth and recommendations, so ask your friends!

ABTA also has a register you can add your postcode to, to find your closest ABTA registered agent.

What makes a good local travel agent?

Finding a good agent is key, you need a reputable agent who is fully trained and experienced in what they offer. There are more and more “travel club” type companies being set up, these seem keener to recruit new members than book holidays.

Being a travel agent is NOT the kind of job you can do with little or zero training and any company claiming to offer this should be treated with caution.

A good agent will be open and honest with you, building a rapport is important, so pick up the phone and chat. They should listen to what you are looking for and help you find the holiday to match. A good agent has no agenda other than finding you the perfect holiday!

What will a local travel agent do that an online company won’t do?

So what will a local travel agent do that an online company won’t do? Here are a few important differences.

They’ll build a relationship with you

You will build a relationship with your local agent, and they will get to know you and what you like to do for your holidays. Not only will this help you find the perfect holiday now, but they will also suggest holiday ideas for your next and future holidays. A bit like a computer algorithm but much, much better! 

They will have your back

Should something go wrong they will fight your corner and have your back. If the flight gets cancelled, if the hotel room isn’t as described, they will be there helping you to sort it out.

They’ll add in little extra touches

Your local travel agent can help you check-in, they will help with any additional procedures you need to do for travel, for example making sure you have applied for correct visas or filled in Traveller Declaration forms. They may send out your documentation in personalised wallets or little thank-you gifts.

They offer a personal small business service

Let’s be honest, we all want to support small businesses, using a small, local travel agent you will be doing exactly that.

When you book that holiday, you have someone on the end of the phone who is really excited for you. Someone who cares that you have a great time. Someone who can’t wait to hear about your trip, and can’t wait to book your next holiday as they know how much it means.

Nicky Woodhatch is the owner of Globally Mine, a Cranleigh based independent travel agent. She works with you to find the best deals, the most suitable accommodation and the most exciting activities and excursions for your trip – whether you are traveling alone, as a couple or as a family.