The Kenya Association of Travel Agents has just announced that their members will charge their clients an extra US$15 equivalent for consultations and bookings made on their behalf beginning April 1, a practice which goes back to around 2007 when airlines on a broad basis discontinued commissions paid for tickets sold via travel agents.
An association spokesperson attributed the rise to added costs incurred, inflationary trends, and the need to remain state of the art with technology requiring ever more competent staff to compete with online booking offers made by airlines, hotels, and other service providers. It was also learned that companies making use of travel agents for their various needs when putting business trips for executives together, can expect higher charges if the traveler uses business or first class, as according to the same source from Nairobi, a lot more input and experience is required for frequent travelers to meet their every needs when in the air or on the road.
Airlines, hotels, and car hire companies have in recent years aggressively promoted direct bookings to cut out any commissions or rebates but often resorted to then offering discounts anyway for bookings made on their websites. The main prerequisite, having a credit or debit card, is now also more widely seen among Kenyans and East Africans, and the increase in Internet usage and easy access to the web via USB modems at acceptable costs all over East Africa has driven Internet-based direct bookings to new heights, and yet first-time travelers, in particular, often opt for advice from experienced travel agents, while companies like to have a competent and liable counterpart nearby when doing their transactions through conventional travel agencies, which are the ideal partners, of course, in case of sudden itinerary changes or to deal with periodic complaints when service providers along the way have messed up. In such case, the travel agency is a call away, while more often than not, one finds at the time of need that the help lines of hotels, airlines, or car hire firms are either busy, or one has to brace for long waits, exhausting mobile phone batteries, and testing nerves, while a travel agent will sort all that out after one call and then gets back to the client by phone or mail with results.
It is a question of almost philosophical dimensions, to use a travel agent or to go directly to a service provider like an airline, a hotel, a car hire firm, or theatre ticket agency, but my choice would be to use a travel agent any time, and yes, pay for the services rendered, just as one does for auditors and lawyersâŠ too much? Not at all, lawyers win legal cases, and auditors help to get the books sorted out and avoid taxation where possible, and travel agents get the best deals and get one out of trouble in case of flight cancellations or sudden changes.