Article By: Brenda Pomponio
Ever wondered what it’s like from the other side? And by that I mean the side of a travel agent whose job it is to plan, help and recommend travel destination and experiences to people? Well, I sat down with Sara from Make It Travel to talk about her job!
Q + A with Sarah from Make It Travel
HELLO! This is me, Sara, the sole operator behind Make It Travel. This little biz was born not long after my second little princess came into the world… on the couch while feeding, with nothing else to do but THINK! I could see the end result but wasn't sure of the steps to get there. The travel industry is a funny thing that confuses most! Lucky for me I was given the opportunity (by a previous employer) to start Make It Travel and operate from home, under their wing. This meant that I could finally offer the personalised service I am dedicated to delivering, with minimal overhead costs and stress. Yes, lucky me!! It took a moved from Perth to Melbourne and another to Bendigo for everything to fall into place. Now? I couldn't be happier. I have met the most amazing women mainly thanks to @girlsfromthego, who have shouted my name from the rooftops. And this is invaluable!! A special mention to @leahladsonphotography who is not only the founder of GFTG, but the lady who overdelivered on our recent photo shoot. Thankyou ❤
1. Give us a bit of an idea of what a day in the life of a travel agent is like?
Well it’s a hard one to put into words because every day is different! But here goes:
The first thing I do after dropping my grade 1 girl Annie at school is to grab a coffee! Luckily for me, I don’t have to down my coffee as I race into town to find a park and be at my desk by 9. These days I work from home. I have the support and backing of a well-established and reputable HelloWorld Travel office, who allow me to just be me. I source my own clients, I specialise in what I want to specialise in, and I can offer a unique, personalised service that is Make It Travel!
Once home, I make sure my nearly 2-year-old Louise is busy/distracted/content (usually with a hint of Peppa Pig) so I can start my to-do list! These lists are SO important in an industry where just the slightest mistake can have the biggest impact on someone’s holiday.
The computer gets turned on, all my wiz bang travel agent programs are fired up and off I go! There are bon voyage and welcome home emails, calling airlines to sort out schedule changes and tickets reissues and then there are building itineraries so that invoices can be sent off for payment.
My days are mainly taken up with research. I meticulously plan each part of someone’s holiday so that things not only go to plan, but the holiday suits the traveller and their style. I never recommend a property, airline or tour unless I am 100% happy with it. I compare prices with anywhere from 4-6 different suppliers to ensure my price is the most competitive and is the best value for money. I check trip advisor reviews and take a quick squiz at the hotels’ website. It sounds a bit over the top, but I find it rewarding and it gives me peace of mind.
Adding passport details to flight bookings, completing online cruise personalises and printing off travel documents are all part of my day to day tasks. Then all of a sudden, its 3 pm and I am left wishing I had another 5 hours in my day so that just once, I could finish my to-do list!
The most rewarding part for me is the final step, meeting with clients to hand over their tickets. Even though my margins are low, their excitement makes the hours spent planning all worth it!
With online booking systems so readily available these days, what can a travel agent offer?
I get asked this A LOT! And my response has mellowed over the years. I no longer provoke the debate about booking online or using a Travel Agent. Yes, booking online can be simple and a rewarding experience IF everything goes to plan. A Travel Agent on the other hand, comes with not only a qualification but a whole lot of peace of mind! Some people LOVE researching every aspect of their trip, others find it completely overwhelming and stressful. So I guess there is a place for both of us!
To get technical with how we do things, we as Travel Professionals have a specialised system called a GDS (General Reservation System). This system links directly into the airlines’ reservation system, allowing us to see live availability and construct unique fares that are impossible to book online. From here we can select a seat number for you, request special meals and ensure that all flights meet minimum connection restrictions along with many other things.
All special systems aside, I think the biggest advantage of using a Travel Agent is their knowledge and years of experience. Travel Agents are very passionate people! We put up with very average pay for the long hours be put in… but for something we absolutely love! Our inbox is overloaded daily with special deals and exclusive experiences. We get invited to industry events to rub shoulders with the hotel owners and tour leaders, building relationships so that our clients get the special treatment on their next trip. Loyalty is everything in the Travel Industry. If you stay loyal to a Travel Professional, you will always be looked after.
How do you approach ensuring your clients get the best travel experience?
This is something I am very passionate about and why I now work from home. These days I have more time uninterrupted (well sort of ahem kids!), and a whole lot more headspace to spend researching destinations to offer my clients something unique. My phone doesn’t ring off the hook and people don’t enter my office because of a $299 Bali deal that caught their eye in the window!
To ensure my clients get the best travel experience, I take the time to get to know what is important to them and how they like to travel. Do they just need a break and are chasing complete relaxation, is it a trip of a lifetime and they don’t want to spare a cent or are they all about an authentic experience and culture is key? All these questions are the foundations of a great holiday and what I use to channel my research.
Does it cost more to use a travel agent? And if not, how do you get paid?
Does it cost more? Yes and no.
What a lot of people forget is that Travel Agents have a qualification and we offer a service. Just like a carpenter or an accountant, you can attempt to DIY or you can pay someone to do it for you. It does frustrate me that a lot of Travel Agents don’t charge for their time, not even a little bit, which I believe de-values our service. We are real people, and we offer a real experience. I think that trumps Skyscanner any day!
In terms of the prices we can source, our rates are just as competitive as Expedia or Booking.com… because guess what, we use them too! We have our own agent portal offering the same rates as you see on the consumer site and these companies throw us a small portion of the booking total in return. Travel agents only book with online retailers when we are offered a secure industry log in, so Trivago and Skyscanner are definite no go’s!
We have very strong relationships with large touring companies and cruise lines as we are the backbone of their businesses. So if you are in the market for a packaged holiday, Travel Agents will always have the best discounts available. And again, these companies pay us a commission for our loyalty which doesn’t cost the client any more.
Airlines… such an important piece of the puzzle but no one is getting rich overnight just booking flights! So expect a service fee when booking just flights because a 1% margin doesn’t make anyone too excited about their job.