Modern Travel Agents Make a Comeback
A camel safari is among the exotic adventures that Judith White, president of Wilton Center Travel Ltd., and Weston's Elisa Brown of Passported, offer as travel agents.
Have you ever been burned booking a vacation online? I have. Years ago, my husband and I booked a trip to South Beach in Miami through an online travel website. The whole process took about ten minutes and cost almost an entire paycheck.
We quickly discovered our supposedly quiet hotel was situated above a loud bar that stayed open until four AM. Our room had stained pillowcases and a bathroom rife with mold. Looking back, it’s crazy to think how casually we planned something that was so important to us.
Since then, online travel resources have certainly improved, but the reality is, there’s still tons of misinformation on the Internet. From Photoshopped images, to subjective user reviews, it’s difficult to know who is telling the truth.
That’s why people are turning to experts like Judith White, president of Wilton Center Travel Ltd. (wiltontravel.com) to get the inside scoop before booking their next trip. Her travel company celebrates 40 years in business this year and remains the go-to place for domestic and international travel consulting services in town.
White, a past president of the CT Chapter of the American Society of Travel Agents, knows our town well. She was the first female member of the Wilton Rotary Club and the founding president of the Wilton Chamber of Commerce.
A Registered Nurse and a CRNA (Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist) White never planned a career in travel. Working in France and later as a nurse at an athletic camp in the Alps, she became fluent in French and passionate about travel. After returning to the U.S., White serendipitously met and married a man who shared her love for adventure. He landed a job with the now-defunct Pan American World Airways, and together they lived in Lisbon, Berlin, Sydney, and The Bahamas, before settling in Wilton.
Her favorite destinations? Africa and the Galapagos Islands. “You come home a changed person,” she explains. “Almost every aspect will affect you—their geographical beauty, the special people who live there, and the incredible wildlife.”
The most important thing to know when planning a trip is that in nine out of ten cases you will benefit from consulting a travel agent at absolutely no cost to you. These days, travel agents are paid by hotels, cruise lines, and tour operators. Rather than charge a flat fee, most agents bill clients for certain concierge levels of service: booking airline tickets, an itinerary of daily activities, or restaurant reservations. “The major exception is airline tickets,” notes White. With the rise of Internet booking services, in large part imposed by airlines, travel agencies were forced to implement service charges.
“Anyone can book a hotel online,” explains Elisa Brown, a Weston mother of three and a luxury travel expert for Passported, a female-run boutique agency based in Tribeca. “Where we add value is through ‘destination insight,’ and our access to insider perks such as food, beverage, and spa credits.”
“You might not be able to get a reservation at the hottest new hotel or restaurant, but there’s a good chance I can make it happen,” says Brown. “I don’t give up easily.”
But before you get to the fun stuff, expect your agent to ask a series of questions about time frame, hotels you’ve enjoyed, destinations that were a win-win for the entire family, vacations you loved (or didn’t —and why), and most importantly, your budget. If you’re planning on traveling to Disney World, that’s a whole different beast, but one that you should definitely leave to a travel agent—trust me.
While you might have a specific month or week in mind for your vacation, an agent can advise you on the best time to travel to a certain destination. If you can be flexible, you might save money and avoid crowds.
Agents like Brown are constantly traveling to educate themselves and gather new information for their clients. Her Instagram feed (@ElisaBrownTravel) would make anyone envious. Already in 2018, she’s “glamped” in the Moroccan Desert, island hopped via helicopter in Greece, Vespa’d through Rome, and enjoyed a food and wine road trip through Tuscany. It’s easy to see why outsiders might think it’s all fun and games, but it’s definitely a full-time job.
“I’m passionate about my work and wouldn’t trade it for anything,” declares Brown.
So next time the urge hits to get away for a weekend in Montreal, a week in Gstaad, or a month in the Maldives, consider utilizing the services of a local travel expert.