I often hear arguments for and against using a true professional travel agent, as opposed to relying on the Internet or booking directly with a cruise line, hotel, or tour operator. Last week I had an experience that underscored the importance a travel agent can have. It was such a textbook example, that John Frenaye, a noted columnist who is also a travel agent, wrote a column about the ordeal. You can read the complete column at TRO.
Book your travel online! The Internet will put the travel agents out of business. I’m in a MLM, so just go to my website and book your travel. How many times have you heard these, or similar, phrases over the past decade? Well, travel agents are still around, and believe it or not they are still kicking. People often will question what a travel agent can do for a consumer when the Internet claims to solve every travel woe. Well, one thing the Internet will never have is the personal connection to the client; and more importantly for the client—a personal connection with other agents and suppliers.
… the point of this column is to demonstrate how a good relationship between client, agent and vendor should work. And we offer a huge pat on the back to Royal Caribbean for allowing this particular voyage to stay afloat.
Last week, Enrique Brener of KC Travel in North Miami Beach, FL ran into a problem that would make anyone’s head spin. Enrique had a client on the April 12, 2009 trans Atlantic crossing of the Independence of the Seas. His client had two Passports and had pre-registered for the cruise using a Polish Passport (since no Visa would be required to enter Europe), yet was traveling on a Peruvian Passport (used to enter the United States). Once at sea, the passenger was told he was in violation of immigration laws and would be disembarked in Ponta Delgada (first port of call) and potentially fined $10,000. The ship confiscated his Passports. On April 13th, the passenger emailed Enrique from the ship with his urgent SOS.
At 8:48 am Enrique posted his dilemma and by 8:55 am he had the contact information he needed to get the ball rolling at Royal Caribbean, US Immigrations, and UK Immigrations.
At 9:20 am, he contacted Vicki Freed, Senior Vice President of Sales and left a voice mail followed by an email message. At 9:40 am, Vicki was in touch asking what she could do to help. She advised she was not the right person, but was going to make sure to bring it to the person who could resolve it.
At 10:00 am, she sent another message to Enrique that Sebastian Drakolovich, Director of Guest Services had been in touch with the ship and was working on it. Shortly after 10:00 am, Sebastian emailed and advised that the passenger would not be disembarked or fined; however, they would not be allowed to disembark in the UK for lack of the proper Visas on the Peruvian Passport. Enrique pressed the issue that the passenger also held a Polish Passport and should be allowed to disembark. Sebastian advised he would research further and get back in touch.
At 12:35 pm, Enrique received the following email from Sebastian:
Since our last e-mail, the ship has been working with the UK immigration teams and has come up with the following solution. “The issues with the dual citizenship guest onboard ID has been working out with UK immigration. The ship will take him into the UK without penalty and without Independence having to change his nationality during the voyage. The guest will have no issues at this time.
…To put this in perspective, a professional agent, was able to utilize his network and expertise to resolve this issue in 3 hours and 40 minutes! In 3 hours and 40 minutes, the client went from being thrown off a ship mid-voyage and facing an exorbitant fine to relaxing on his balcony without a care in the world because of the professionalism of his agent and the relationship the agent had with a supplier.
The end result, the passenger had a few tense hours for sure, but is now enjoying his cruise on the Independence of the Seas.
So, what is the takeaway for the consumer? For all but the simplest transactions, utilizing a trained, professional travel agent is your best bet. Even if there is a small service fee or retainer involved. This particular passenger sees it as a $10,000 savings! And remember, although your travel professional may not have personally visited a specific destination or sailed on a particular itinerary, paying a small fee for his knowledge and more importantly his network can indeed be priceless. The Internet will not provide this capability, nor will any of the Card Mill or MLM agencies — you can bet on that!
From TRO, we offer huge kudos to Royal Caribbean, Vicki Freed, Sebastian Drakolovich, and the many other unnamed people that were involved. Don’t worry about the Hokey Pokey—THIS is what it is all about!
Credit goes to John for his help and for writing the column. There’s not much more I can add to that. If you’d like me to help you plan and set up your next trip, don’t hesitate to contact me.