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Which is Better for Trip Planning?

Thanks to the Internet, a couple clicks can lead us to a picture-perfect vacation.Do-it-yourself sites like Booking.com and Airbnb have virtually eliminated the need for travel agencies, a service that dominated the travel industry in the ‘70s and ‘80s.

Surprisingly enough, travel agencies might be making a comeback. In Sept. 2018, Vox Media reported on data from the American Society of Travel Advisors and MMGY Global, a hospitality and travel marketing firm, that claimed millennials have taken a liking to the old-school way of vacation planning.

Are we too quick to reject brick-and-mortar travel agencies? Or is home-planning the more valuable option? To explore this topic, we consulted travel expert Frank Zurline, owner of Bellingham Travel and Cruise, the largest independent travel agency in Whatcom County, located in downtown Bellingham. We spoke about the differences of a trip through a travel agency versus online planning. We put Zurline’s advice to the test, making our own travel arrangements online for a potential trip to Venice, Italy and comparing that process to using Zurline as our travel agent. Here’s what we found:

Pre-Trip Planning

ONLINE

It begins with a destination hunt. A quick Google search turns up pages of listicles about the “Best April Travel Spots,” each with 10-plus places that may or may not strike your fancy. If you don’t have an idea of where you’d like to go, this process can be dizzying. We landed on Venice, Italy because in April they have mild temperatures and minimal crowds.

TRAVEL AGENCY

If Zurline’s client has no idea where to start, he’ll ask questions: “Do you like cruising? Lying on a beach? Are you adventurous? How much are you willing to spend?” With a general idea of vacation preferences, he’ll suggest places he enjoys, or knows others have loved. When we say we’re thinking of Venice, his face lights up with recognition; it’s a beautiful city, he says — he’s been four times. Zurline is able to confirm with a personal touch that Venice is a great April spot and get us excited.

EDGE: TRAVEL AGENCY

Planes, Trains, & Automobiles

ONLINE

We’re lucky to live in close vicinity to major international airports in Seattle and Vancouver. With the help of sites like Expedia, it’s very simple to narrow down the cheapest roundtrip flights to Venice. They feature advanced technology that can compare prices and dates in a quick click.

TRAVEL AGENCY

Odds are, your travel agent is using a similar site to book your flights, Zurline says. The downside of booking a flight to Venice with Bellingham Travel and Cruise is a $50 fee, as the agents no longer earn commission from the airlines.

EDGE: ONLINE

Hotels and Activities

ONLINE

TripAdvisor is a home-planner’s best friend. We can book and compare both hotels and activities through the site and read tons of customer reviews. Searching for Venice activities is a breeze with categories including food and drink, shopping, half-day tours, et cetera. Besides TripAdvisor, there are tons of external booking sites that can get the job done, but be careful! Make sure the site is legitimate to avoid a travel horror story.

TRAVEL AGENCY

Because Zurline has traveled to Venice multiple times, he says he’d probably recommend a hotel that he’s stayed in and, of course, manage the booking. For activities and restaurants, he’d consult the concierge at the hotel, check online sites, ask people who’ve traveled there, or give personal recommendations. A level of trust is important in this stage, Zurline says. If you don’t trust your travel agent to try to find the best quality hotels and activities for your price range, this will be a difficult process.

EDGE: EVEN

When Disaster Strikes

ONLINE

Getting a passport or wallet stolen in a foreign country is a legitimate fear. If this happened to you while abroad, you’d have to figure out the steps to cancel cards and get a new passport all on your own. Venice also has the “sinking city” reputation. Although flooding season is typically late fall through winter, say upon arriving at the Italian airport, you receive word your hotel is submerged. While you may get your money back, unless you enjoy sleeping on airport seats, you’ll have to book another hotel quickly. This can be complicated and stressful without a computer at your disposal.

TRAVEL AGENCY

Zurline has had his own wallet stolen in Milan, Italy. If you called him in a panic after losing items, he’d be able to help find an American Embassy to get the passport replaced, and provide some much needed empathy. If your hotel floods in Venice, you can also give your travel agent a call. While there’s no guarantee they’ll pick up if it’s not during office hours, some agents will give out their home numbers, Zurline says. They can book a new hotel for you, and set up transportation to get there.

EDGE: TRAVEL AGENCY

If you find yourself anxiety-ridden at the thought of planning a trip, travel agencies are worth a try. Online planning is great for budgeting the cheapest options, but for those who have just a little extra to spend, a travel agent could be the fuel for your next perfect vacation.

For more content like this, check out our Travel & Explore section here.

"If you find yourself anxiety-ridden at the thought of planning a trip, travel agencies are worth a try. "