Travel Associates CEO Roland Kautzky on why you still need a travel agent

Roland Kautzky, CEO of travel agency Travel Associates, sat down with host John Deeks on the YourLifeChoices podcast this week to talk about why travel agents are still needed, as well as what’s happening in the cruise industry.

Travel agents used to be an essential cog in most people’s holiday plans. Booking flights, accommodation and transfers required actual phone calls to real people. Getting everything right was tricky, if not impossible, for the average person.

This is where your travel agent would come in. Intimately connected to the global tourism network, travel agents could arrange every aspect of your holiday, anywhere in the world.

But with the advent of the internet and all its various flight, cruise and accommodation booking websites, today you can do it all yourself.

So, why would someone need a travel agent in today’s world? There are many reasons, says Mr Kautzky.

“It’s just reassuring to know that there’s somebody who coordinates all the various aspects of travelling,” he says.

“That could be flights. That could be accommodation, there could be a cruise, there could be transfers, there could be travel insurance. So, there’s a whole lot of moving objects in the trip.”

But travel agents charge you for the service, so you could save money by booking it yourself. You can even find much cheaper deals for flights and hotels online. But Mr Kautzky says online prices often show only part of the total cost.

Ignore click bait

“Everything’s shiny and glitzy on the internet,” he says.

“Quite often it’s clickbait. That price is meant to get you hooked and then, very quickly, you find out that this, that and the other is actually not included or it is not actually the best option for a particular type of traveller.

“We are really seeing this transition from a transactional agent like it used to be in the old days, where you had to have somebody actually doing the transaction for you because it was just not possible to book a flight online like it is these days. With the advent of so many different options and so many platforms, it does get quite confusing and there are many pitfalls.”

OK, so a travel agent can help me with the complexities of my trip. But how do I go about finding the right agent for me? Often travel agency staff are much younger, with less real-world travel experience than their customers.

“This is where the term ‘adviser’ comes in more and more,” Mr Kautzky says.

“A lot of clients turn to me and say, ‘Roland, this looks great and I think this could be something that I like. What do you think? What is your advice? Would I enjoy this or not?’

“This is really where the experience comes in and a first-year agent wouldn’t have that experience.

“When selecting an adviser, I would always say have almost a bit of an interview with them, asking, ‘How long have you been in the industry? How much travelling have you done yourself?’ Very quickly, you’ll probably establish a bit of a rapport and see if you kind of work well together.”

Cruising is back

In 2022, around 1.3 million Australians took a cruise and, so far this year, passenger numbers are up by 42 per cent over 2023. Mr Kautzky says cruises close to home seem to be most popular with Aussies at the moment.

“There’s definitely the option to stay close to home, do a trip up the coastline, say from Sydney up to Queensland and back,” he says.

“New Zealand’s a hugely popular destination as far as cruising goes because it is just a nice 10-to-14-day trip. The Pacific Islands aren’t far either so that’s Fiji, Vanuatu, New Caledonia. It’s all within a couple of days.”

Many older Australians are interested in cruises but don’t know where to start. For someone in their 60s or 70s who has never been on a cruise, Mr Kautzky says to treat it like you would when searching for a holiday on land.

“Really think about the aspects you like when you travel on land,” he says.

“If you’re somebody who prefers to stay in a comfortable or maybe slightly more luxurious hotel, then I would stay away from some of the three-star type cruise ships and actually go for something more highly rated.”

Mr Kautzky says first-time cruisers need to be aware of their sea legs.

“The other thing to keep mindful of is the number of days spent at sea,” he says.

“Particularly for the Australian market because we’re surrounded by a lot of water here and the moment we leave the coastline, we often spend two, three, four days at sea.

“[For] the first-time cruiser, I would probably recommend a slightly more port-intense itinerary. Just so you don’t feel like you’re stuck on the ship and you can’t get off.”

Do you always need travel insurance?

Travel insurance premiums, like all insurance premiums, have been steadily rising recently, especially since the pandemic. Do you always need travel insurance? Mr Kautzky says the answer is clear.

“It’s a short answer. You just can’t afford not to travel with insurance,” he says.

“There’s just too many things that could go wrong and you could be out of pocket by tens, if not hundreds of thousands, of dollars. The good news is also that, while we’ve seen insurance premiums skyrocketing, it’s only due to the fact that there were less people travelling and more people making claims [during the pandemic years].

“Of course, that means the premiums shot up. Now, with more people travelling again, that ratio is normalising again, which means that we’re actually seeing a bit of a downward trend there in the insurance premiums – including for the 70-plus segment.”

So, if you’ve been thinking about getting out there and travelling again, possibly on a cruise, a travel agent can help sort out all the different aspects of your trip and make sure everything goes smoothly.

Are you planning any trips this year? Where would you go if you could go anywhere? Let us know in the comments section below.

Also read: How the make the best of a European rail trip

Brad Lockyer
Brad Lockyer
Brad has deep knowledge of retirement income, including Age Pension and other government entitlements, as well as health, money and lifestyle issues facing older Australians. Keen interests in current affairs, politics, sport and entertainment. Digital media professional with more than 10 years experience in the industry.
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