Fueled by a post-pandemic tourism frenzy, many travelers seek real-life help to plan their journeys.
A 2023 consumer research survey by the American Society of Travel Advisors found that 50% of travelers are more likely to use a travel adviser post-pandemic. But the way would-be adventurers are using travel agents has shifted.
Carolina Beach resident Casey Savage Davis, owner of Park & Palm Travel, has been in the travel business professionally for four years but has been immersing herself in travel her entire life. Several years ago, she was planning her family vacation when she realized she had a knack for travel planning and discovered that she genuinely enjoyed the process.
“I love organization, checklists and marking things off my to-do list. That detail orientation, along with the pure excitement of creating itineraries for my most favorite places in the world, is what has drawn me to the travel industry,” Davis said. “Although meeting and working with all different types of clients is amazing, the most fun part of my job is the research, aka the travel.”
Davis acknowledged that the pandemic put the travel industry at a near standstill, affecting resorts, parks and entire countries that rely on travel for survival.
Davis needed to know the rules, regulations and restrictions, as well as risks and actions taken by travel destinations, to ensure the safety of guests. She took advantage of this slower time, getting to know the travel industry better. Post-pandemic changes to Davis’ business included educating herself and informing clients of travel expectations worldwide.
“The conversations I had with my clients shifted, always starting with more serious discussions around vaccinations, willingness to take tests and meet the precautions required by companies and countries. Now that the travel industry is mostly back to normal, we’re having exciting discussions of the world’s possibilities,” she said.
Davis said the days of brick-and-mortar travel agencies are a thing of the past.
“COVID-19 transitioned work to the business owners’ homes, and face-to-face interaction was put on hold. Travel agents were required to be in front of a screen more than they typically had been, which pulled agents like myself to really utilize social media outlets to inform clients of what is available. In an effort to continue building relationships with my clients, I shifted to virtual meeting platforms like Zoom and FaceTime,” she said.
While Davis loves meeting clients over coffee to discuss a Hawaiian family getaway or birthday celebration in Mexico, she noted that online booking is not new.
“A knowledgeable and experienced travel agent allows clients to step back from the complexities of online booking and focus on what they’re desiring most,” she said.
Davis loves the flexibility of online booking.
“Nine-to-five business hours are not a thing at Park & Palm Travel,” she said. “I focus on my clients during times that fit my clients’ schedules. I manage bookings any time of the day.”
Most of Davis’ clients are working parents who have difficulty finding time to pick up groceries, let alone plan a trip to Antigua. Davis found that most of her clients want to communicate through phone and email. Some appreciate face-to-face meetings to nail down details, working side by side while looking through options.
“These interactions typically help us build even stronger relationships,” said Davis.
Robert Matthews, of RBM Travel Solutions, has worked in the travel industry for four years. He said surprisingly, many people still wanted to travel during the pandemic.
“It helped my business. I allowed travelers to choose the places they wanted to travel where they felt safe,” he said.
Matthews said since the pandemic, more people have started using travel agents. “The agents continue to stay up to date on all things travel-related. Travelers look to us for our expertise,” he said.
And for deals.
Davis has access to bargains travelers wouldn’t be aware of or even have the ability to book, she said.
“My clients don’t have to find the deals. They just have to find me,” she said. “As a luxury travel adviser, my main goals are to create perfect getaways, provide concierge-level service and create convenience and time savings for my clients. If a deal is there, that’s just an extra perk.”
Davis recognizes that a perfect vacation is different for everyone. Some travelers just want to sit under a palm tree with a pina colada, while others want to zip-line through rainforests, hike volcanoes, cruise through the Mediterranean or visit Mickey Mouse.
“Once you’ve considered your wants and needs along with a budget, it’s time to loop in a travel adviser,” she said.
Park & Palm Travel specializes in travel around the Caribbean, Mexico, Hawaii, Disney World, Universal Studios, cruises and European tours.
“I’m not just a theme park or a Caribbean agent. I’m an agent who has experience planning vacations in a variety of destinations,” she said. Davis said she also has experience booking groups, including local companies’ incentive trips.
Matthews specializes in group cruises and Caribbean travel.
“Research and don’t just settle for the best price. Cheap is not always the best. Remember, you get what you pay for,” Matthews said. “You don’t have to go broke to have a perfect vacation either.”