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Facebook Groups ≠ Travel Agents

Updated: Mar 3

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The other day on a travel advisor group I belong to, someone said a friend of hers recommended her to another friend and when she called him, he said, “I don’t think I need a travel agent. I can just click around on my own phone like you would and find whatever I need.” Fast forward to 3 days before the trip that he clicked around on his phone and planned himself, she gets a frantic text message saying that he can’t find his passport anywhere and can she please help him get another one before the trip in 3 days. She REALLY wanted to tell him to “just click around on his phone” but being the professional that she is, she didn't say that to him. She didn't have any magic pull with the passport agency so she couldn't help him at that point. But, the "just click around on my phone like you do" comment kind of stung her. That's like saying a doctor just gets on the internet to google symptoms or an accountant just uses the same software you do. There is more to it than that.

I belong to quite a few Facebook travel groups and some of you may have found this site through those. There are lots of posts when I really want to say to someone, “You need a travel planner” because they clearly don’t understand that downside of asking 10,000 random people for travel advice.

A meme about travel agents and facebook groups

There’s nothing inherently wrong with using a Facebook group for travel advice. But, better questions get better answers. Instead of just asking about afternoon tea, ask for recommendations and then request the respondents tell you WHY they liked that place. There are hundreds of places for afternoon tea in London but without knowing why someone liked a particular place, you could literally just find a list on Google.

As a professional travel planner, I get to know my clients before I book anything for them. I also look closely at any tours or hotels and get to know them before I book them. I am like a matchmaker – trying to match a client with a trip they will love.

So, when someone goes on a random travel group and asks about the best places to eat in London, I literally laugh. Cue the list of random restaurants based on zero actual knowledge about what that person actually LIKES. I’m always amazed at the willingness of others to just start firing off restaurants.

If you were my client, I would ask:

  • What kind of food do you like?

  • Do you like fast casual or sit-down with wait staff?

  • What types of cuisine do you like?

  • Are there cuisines you’d like to try?

  • Do you have any allergies?

  • Do you have any foods you don’t like (fish, Indian, etc)

  • Do you like the idea of street food?

And, the list goes on. I would try to find the best options for a client and not just throw out everything from McDonalds to The Ivy and think they'll choose something right for them.

Then there’s the person who asks for a hotel with private bathroom near a tube station (pretty much all of them) or “walking distance to everything” (impossible in London) that “won’t break the bank”. What does “won’t break the bank” even mean? My bank is different than your bank, right? And, the first-time traveler to London might be shocked to learn that $200/night is actually a lower-end hotel in London during certain times of the year. Their “won’t break the bank” might be $100/night and that’s a big dream for central London without going to a hostel. That price gets you a hotel near Heathrow and an hour-long commute into London every day. I would totally tell you the issue with the location, but there is probably someone in a group who would say “it’s not bad commuting every day” and you might believe them and then be mad about the daily commute into London when you realize you can’t easily go back to your hotel to drop off shopping or change your uncomfortable shoes.

But, again, the crowd is ready to start firing off suggestions from Travelodge to The Ritz. Heck, I could put you in The Cadogan if you want me to ($1200+). But, I’m not going to even suggest it if your budget is $250/night. At least use a search engine you can put your parameters and dates into. No one on a FB group is going to know the price of a hotel on your dates or even if it's available. I like TripAdvisor for searches. You'll get way better information than from a random group of people.

A meme about travel agents and facebook groups

Again, as a professional travel planner, I’m going to ask a lot of questions before making any suggestions. First, I’m going to educate you that London is a walkable city, but not all attractions are within walking distance. Walking from Kensington Palace to The Tower of London will take you nearly an hour. Then, we’re going to talk about the neighborhoods of London and find what you’re looking for. Staying in Piccadilly sounds great, but it’s very busy. If you’re looking for quiet mornings wandering down to a nice coffee shop and then strolling through a park, Piccadilly isn’t it; that’s Notting Hill or Bayswater or even Islington. I try to match the neighborhood with my client. I also try to set expectations with regards to their budget and what they get. Hotel rooms in London and all of Europe are much smaller than US hotel rooms. Older hotels with "English Charm" can be creaky and noisy. Bed and Breakfasts in London are often very low end whereas in the US, they are usually charming places with interesting fellow travelers. We’re going to talk about all that.

Does my client want a kitchenette? Laundry facilities? Accessible room? Type of bed (they are confusingly different)? I’m going to have a LOT of questions about what they like and generally stay in. I’m basically going to read all the reviews and often ask other travel agents about a property before I ever recommend it and book it for a client.

Then, finally, there is the “What should I see” question. Again, 10,000 people start throwing out suggestions from the London Dungeon to Buckingham Palace without knowing a single thing about someone. It’s such a waste of time and can quickly become overwhelming as it goes on for days. I scratch my head over the people who are so emphatic about things like Madame Tussauds as a “MUST SEE!!!!”. It’s like there is zero self-awareness that not everyone is going to find that as a “MUST SEE”. In fact, I usually suggest it’s a must NOT see for precious time in London. There are thousands of things to see in London and every one of them will be on SOMEONE's "must see" list for different reasons. But, the first-time visitor probably doesn't need to know about The Old Operating Theater Museum. Yet, there's a doctor or nurse somewhere who would tell you that it CAN'T BE MISSED!

As a travel advisor, I’m going to find out what you’re actually interested in. I have a client I’m working with now who said “We aren’t interested in the royals” but then also said they’d like to see Windsor Castle. They said, “No” to the Tower of London, too. They mentioned a west end show so I’ll talk to them about what they’ve seen that they liked before or wouldn’t want to see again. Cool! I am getting a feeling for what they like and don’t like and we’ll go from there. I'm not going to just send over a list of 100 things and tell them to pick some. It's MY job to figure out what they might like best and present a shorter list of options to them.

And, then, there’s all the little tips and tricks that professional travel advisors know and will pass along to our clients from transportation suggestions to packing lists. We actually know the difference between a travel plug adapter and a power converter and we actually know what type of travel plug adapter you need and when you MIGHT need a power converter (hint: rarely). Every time someone asks that, there are 1000 different opinions and some of them are just wrong. I’ve seen many travelers show up with the wrong plugs probably because of bad advice (hint: Europe has a different plug from the UK).

Travel Agents can help you cut through what you've heard or seen. There is good advice but there is also bad advice that to the person who doesn't know better, sounds like good advice. It's perfectly fine to ask your travel advisor if something is true. No professional travel planner is going to be mad you are on a Facebook travel group. But, it's nice to have someone to tell you whether or not what you're reading is fact or fiction.

A meme about travel agents and facebook groups

So, as you’re planning your next trip – even if you’ve travelled before – consider using a professional licensed travel agent or travel advisor (interchangeable names). I provide my clients with a beautiful and easy-to-use itinerary as well as lots of advice and try to be available for them during their trip to answer questions. You don’t give up control of your trip by using a TA. You are just getting a knowledgeable partner who can enhance your experience and focus your plans in a way a random group of people on Facebook never can. You can see my services HERE.

One final tip on this – travel advisors are not Priceline negotiators (got that tune in your head, now?). We can’t find you the lowest price for whatever you’re looking for. What we CAN do is find you the best value for what you want. So, we’ll try to find you the nicest $200/night hotel we can based on what you told us you want in a hotel. But, we can’t get you a deal at The Savoy for $200/night.

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Andrés Pimenta
Andrés Pimenta
Nov 10, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Well done!! What an amazing post you have written. I have worked in different hotels in London and am an official City of Westminster Tour Guide and could not agree more to all the things you mentioned on the post.

People need to ask the right questions, look for professional advice, allow an expert guide them. London is a city that might be overwhelming to many and that works differently to other cities in Europe.

Express what you like or you don't like, what is a must see for me could not be for you, my favourite restaurant might not offer food that you enjoy. My favourite place for tea might not be the fancy "high tea" experience you are…

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