More people are seeking their help Travel agents are staging a comeback. Booking travel online has been a fad for a number of years, but people are discovering that they are not necessarily saving time or money. People are also realizing that by booking online they may have missed some important information or were unable customize their vacation to meet specific needs or desires. “People are using travel agencies because they do not want to be bothered with all the particulars of planning a trip for business or vacation,” said Sharon Lewis, owner of Kingwood Travel. “Many people who come to us are not travel savvy or they are truly afraid of stepping out into the unknown and this is where a travel agent comes in.” Travel agents are with their customers before, during and after a trip. They are always keeping up to date on travel specials and policy changes within the industry and government. Most of that information is not available to the online shopper. When a problem arises, all too often the phone number to the general service from the online agency is not answered. “Agents are available to assist their customers, no matter the day or time,” said Lewis. “For example, one of our customers was on a luxury cruise trip from India to Greece. Two days before the ship was to dock, he had a stroke. They were in Turkey. The cruise line insisted the man be taken to a hospital. The man’s wife was beside herself. She called the agent that set them up on the cruise. The agent took over from there. As soon as he was stable, the agent arranged to have the man medivaced back home. Fortunately too, the couple had taken out travel insurance. If you were on your own, things, would not have moved as smoothly.” This is but one example of the added value of making travel plans through a travel agency. Travel agents have also been known to help plan weddings. Agents, because of their special knowledge of different venues can at times, get added bonuses included that the wedding party had not considered. Online travel agencies are beginning to realize that personal assistance is often needed and have recently begun to augment their services with online expertise for complex trips. Some online agencies even serve as matchmakers between travelers and their exotic plans. “Talking to someone on the phone or via the Web does not take the place of meeting with an agent face to face. Our agents get to know our customers’ personalities and that allows them to suggest a better fit no matter where they are traveling,” Lewis said. Booking a vacation or business travel through a reputable agency takes away all the worry about the itinerary. If there are problems, a travel agent is can be a best friend. • Choose one like you would a doctor or lawyer. Get advice from friends and relatives and use an agent they trust. • The travel agency should belong to the American Society of Travel Agents. ASTA is the largest and most influential travel trade organization in the world. • The agent should be interested in you and your travel needs and make recommendations based on your needs and finances. • Legitimate travel agents make their money by charging a booking fee or get commissions from the travel consolidators. The agent should be willing to discuss all fees openly. Most agencies and agents are competent, but there are always exceptions. Travel experts suggest that there are several things to be mindful of when using a travel agency. • Demands that payment be made in cash. Reputable agencies accept credit cards. • The agency is not a member of ASTA. • Adds a booking fee to your bill after you decided to book travel. • The agent or agency does not know anything about where you are going. • Has a bad record with the Better Business Bureau. • Does not take or return your phone calls. Good agencies are available to their customers 24/7 to handle any situation that needs their assistance. Photo: From left are Samantha Rainsford, Ann Chamberlain, Gail Evans, Mica Shelton, Debbie Williams, Teresa Hugdahl, Gillian Redman and Sharon Lewis- members of Kingwood Travel. A member of the prestigious Virtuoso, Kingwood Travel has been handling travel arrangements for more than 30 years to friends and clients in the community. Kingwood Travel is there to help find the perfect trip to an exotic tropical island vacation, luxury and adventure cruise, romantic getaway, honeymoon, safari and tour. Visit their Web site, www.kingwoodtravel.net, for the most comprehensive and up-to-date specials available. Not pictured is Jamie Hetu.

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