Do you need really need a travel agent to plan your next vacation? The answer is a qualified yes, especially if you have access needs.. Although booking a flight these days is a relatively simple procedure; people who need wheelchair-accessible lodging, ground transportation or other accommodations, may benefit from working with a qualified professional. Finding the right travel agent can be a real trick though; so here are a few tips to help you along the way.
- Make sure your travel agent is a true accessible travel expert. If they claim to hold some certification or professional membership, ask how many hours of training or experience it entailed. Some agents become “experts” after a quick afternoon seminar.
- Although you want to find an expert, beware of any agent who claims to be an expert in everything. It’s virtually impossible for any one agent to be a true expert in every type of accessible travel. That old saying, “Jack of all trades, master of none”, applies here.
- Ask any prospective agent if they have booked trips for other people who have your disability. Ask them how many clients they have handled with your disability, not how long they have been doing it. Remember, a travel agent could be in business for many years, yet still have not had that many clients.
- Ask friends who share your same disability if they have any travel agent recommendations. Remember to also ask about the trips they booked with their recommended agent.
- Ask your prospective agent for references, but don’t totally rely on them. Remember, almost anyone can pretend to be a reference.
- If you have a specific destination or trip in mind, ask about the agent’s experience with it. Some agents only specialize in a few destinations, so try and find someone with an expertise in your top choices.
- Some agencies advertise that they are “owned and operated by a person with a disability”. Although there’s nothing wrong with stating that fact, be wary if that’s the agent’s only qualification. Just because someone is disabled, doesn’t automatically mean they’re knowledgeable about accessible travel.
- If your travel agent claims non-profit status in advertisements, then ask about the services the agency provides for the community. If the best answer the agent can come up with is, “We negotiate good deals on travel,” then you may be dealing with a non-profit in name only. Remember, operating a non-profit organization doesn’t necessarily guarantee altruistic motives.
- Be wary of travel agents who don’t travel. Ask them how long it’s been since their last trip or ship inspection.
- Ask some trial questions to test the agent’s knowledge of the Americans with Disabilities Act. A true specialist should be aware of basic access regulations.
Last, but not least, don’t be afraid to eliminate anyone you just don’t like. After all, this is a personal service. You don’t have to become best friends with your travel agent, but you do need to maintain a cordial working relationship.