When it comes to travel planning, have we gotten too tech-savvy for our own good? Have we sacrificed the expertise of a seasoned travel agent for the lure of cheaper plane fares and discount hotel packages? And how often have you arrived at a destination, only to be a bit surprised by one or more aspects of the trip? These little vacation disappointments are what travel agent Beth McCarty of the McCarty Group says can ruin a perfectly good trip. She should know. She's been in the business in some form or another for 20 years, and she's seen and heard just about everything. Thankfully, she's willing to slip us some free advice.
How much do travel agents charge for their services?
Anywhere from $20 to $500. That's a huge range, I know, but the amount of time the trip will last, and how many destinations there are factors in the equation. If you are going to five continents, say, rather than just going to NYC, there's going to be a bit more cost involved.
How many clients do you work with each year?
Between the three employees, about 700 or so. We also do a ton of group bookings. Most of my clients are really well traveled, and willing to pay for the service we can provide. Really, it all comes down to trust. Would you pick a lawyer out of the Yellow Pages? That's how I feel about travel. Don't just trust anyone, and never assume anything.
Have the Internet travel sites hurt your business?
Of course. We're direct competitors, but I always look and see what they're offering. Ninety-nine percent of the time we're offering the same fares. But my clients don't want to do the planning on their own. They like the personal attention, and the fact that they have one contact person for every aspect of their trip, with all the information -- if something goes wrong we're here to make it right. All of my clients have my cell number, and they can call 24 hours a day.
What are the most common travel mistakes?
Booking yourself to the wrong city with the right name. There are 10 Greenvilles in the U.S., for example. People do it all the time. When I worked for Midway airlines in Louisiana, a guy flew in to what he thought was Lafayette, Indiana, for his own wedding. We got him on the plane the next morning, so he made it. I'll just chalk that up to pre-wedding jitters.
What about odd travel requests?
People request specific sides of airplanes, but a lot of times that has to do with them not being blinded by sun or wanting to sleep. I've had customers who wanted to see every single flight option available -- that could be up to 55 for anywhere you want to go! I've had specific color requests for rental cars. But for the most part, nothing too weird, thankfully.
How about some insider tips, on the house?
Would you believe that one of the best cruises adults can take is on the Disney line? Honestly, they have some of the best amenities and everything they do is strictly top-notch. But don't tell anyone else . . .
You've been practically everywhere, what's your favorite vacation spot?
I still haven't been to Asia, and I don't really see myself going to Antarctica, but so far, Paris. Who knows, there are still plenty of incredible places left to visit.