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Travel Agents in Greece

Apostolis Dimopoulos of Aegean Thesaurus Travel is a second generation travel agent. (His father was a travel agent)

Endangered Species: Travel Agents vs Hotels the Airlines and On-line Booking Sites

There is a war going on and you are right in the middle of it. It is a war for power and money and the battleground is the internet.

When people in the travel industry realized the potential of the internet to reach the public their eyes lit up. The internet was a wonderful way to get information to travelers all over the world. If you had a hotel in the small island of Lipsi someone could see photos and descriptions in Tulsa, Oklahoma. At first the internet was something that these hotels knew about but did not quite understand. They paid to have websites made and get on the net even though they did not really know what the net was and what it could do.

Litsa at Fantasy TravelBefore the internet, hotels worked hand in hand with travel agents. The hotels gave the agencies a net rate so they could sell the rooms and make a profit and the guest would not pay anymore than they would if they had booked directly with the hotel if by some miracle they had found it. This was a good system and the agencies filled the rooms and kept the hotels in business. Then some of the hotels decided that now that they had the power of the internet why did they need the agencies? They could let customers book directly over the net and give them prices that were cheaper than they could get from the agency yet more expensive than what the hotels were giving the agencies at net. They could eliminate the agency from the process. They would make a few euros extra and the customer might save a couple Euros. Not that they cared about the customer saving anything. The discounted rates was just to get them to book.

From the viewpoint of the customer this is a good deal. They can use sites like mine to research their trip and even contact the agencies and get rates and descriptions and itineraries and then book directly with the hotel and save money. I have nothing against getting a good deal but here is the problem.

Patra Lagoudakou of Fantasy Travel. 24 Years experienceOnce the travel agencies have been eliminated from the equation and perhaps disappear altogether then the hotel has no incentive to give the discount. The rates go back up. But now the traveler is at a complete disadvantage. First of all he has nobody to ask about the hotel besides the hotel or other hotels. When you talk to a travel agent they can give you the pros and cons of a hotel. Yannis Hotel in Elefsina for example: You ask the agency and they will say something like "It is a nice hotel, very clean, nice pool, AC in every room, however it is next to an oil refinery". If you had asked the hotel they would say "The best hotel on a beautiful beach".

Let's say you booked directly with Yannis hotel and you got there and realize that the next two weeks of your holiday you will be breathing oil fumes. You go to the hotel manager and say "I am sorry. I did not know you were next to an oil refinery. I would like to cancel."
"No problem" says the hotel owner with a smile. "Of course I have to charge you a cancellation fee which is half the price of the booking." You haggle and argue but in the end you pay it because who wants to stay in a hotel next to an oil refinery? But the situation is the same even if you didn't like the hotel for other reasons like the rooms were dirty, your beautiful view turns out to be somebody's wall, the beach that was supposed to be 100 meters away is actually a couple thousand and it smells like fish, or the staff are rude.

So there you are in front of Yannis Hotel in Elefsina with your bags and the traffic whizzing by. Now what? Ask Yannis to find you another hotel? Yeah right. He is inside counting your money knowing that now he can book your empty room to someone else and make even more. But it is not gratitude he is feeling for you. The opposite because you have insulted his beautiful hotel. So you flag a taxi and ask him if he knows of a hotel. "Yes I know a beautiful hotel!!!!" He takes you to the Hotel Xenovlachos on the other side of the train station, helps you with your bags, picks up his commission from the concierge and you find yourself in a hotel that is not next to a refinery but the rooms are filthy, the hot water does not work and you have to take 3 buses to get to the Acropolis.

Vicky Gerrasimidou of Fantasy Travel. 18 years experience.OK. This is an extreme circumstance but I think you get my point. So let's roll back the tape. You ask about staying at the Yannis Hotel because you saw the nice website they have and the travel agent you are working with says "It is next to a refinery".
Cross it off the list. "What about the Xenovlachos?"

But let us say by some chance your agent did not realize the hotel was next to a refinery. She has gotten reports from guests who liked it and other agencies who have used it and they all failed to mention this key fact. So you get to the hotel and you realize with shock that the hotel is next to a refinery. You ask the manager to call your travel agent who he knows of course because your agent booked the hotel for you. You get on the phone and tell your agent to get you the hell out of there because the hotel is next to a refinery. The agent feels terrible and sends a taxi for you and puts you in another hotel. Maybe even a higher category because she feels so bad. You end up in a nice hotel (not the Xenovlachos) and you don't have to pay the cancellation fee!

The agency protected you and in the end saved you money and maybe your holiday.

But it is human nature to go for the best deal. We are all selfish by nature, or most of us are. That is why in America small shops are disappearing from the landscape as everyone shops at giant discount stores to save a dollar here and there. The discount stores underpay their employees, buy their goods from factories in Asia that pay slave wages and all the money is sucked into the corporation rather than circulated. This creates a cycle where people have less money and things cost more and you have to shop at the discount stores only they are not discount stores anymore. They are the only stores.

By booking with the hotels directly you may save a couple dollars but when the travel agencies disapear who is going to tell you that the hotel stinks? And when the hotels get all their bookings from the net why should they offer discounts?

For those who put their faith in fellow travelers and book their hotels by reading the reviews on sites like Tripadvisor you have to be aware that the rating system is very flawed. As an example a #1 rated hotel in Athens is in a neighborhood so bad that a Greek travel agent would not dare put their clients there. But because the price was so low and the quality of the hotel was good, the few people who stumbled upon it loved it. Some people did complain about the neighborhood and one person who gave it the highest marks was actually pick-pocketed on the way to the hotel. But the reviews came from first time travelers to Greece who were there for one or two nights and had no other hotel experience in the city to compare it to and did not even realize they were in a dangerous neighborhood, maybe thinking the area was typical of Athens. This is not done intentionally. The whole thing is computerized. There is nobody at Trip Advisor who can sit down and say that a certain hotel despite its high rankings might not be suitable for a family with children or even unsafe. The hotel ranks high, the ranking fuels the bookings and TA which is in the business of bookings pushes that hotel.

George Gerrasimides of Fantasy Travel has 26 years on experienceNobody is getting screwed the way the agencies are and from both directions. Look at what the airlines are doing. Airlines used to rely on travel agencies the way hotels did. The airlines did not want to have to deal with every person thinking about going somewhere so they gave net prices to travel agencies so they could make a profit on selling tickets. The more expensive the ticket the more the agent would make and the customer was not paying extra and yet he had someone he could ask a thousand questions to. Then came the internet and the airlines got greedy. (Well they were always greedy but they needed the agents before.) Now they could get rid of the agencies even though the success of the airlines was because of the travel agents who had been selling their tickets. So they got rid of the net fares. They made the agencies pay the same as the traveler would pay. Now in order to make anything off the ticket the agency had to add a commission. In the meantime the airlines set up their on-line systems and made deals with companies like Expedia and Travelocity (I will probably get sued for this) and sold the tickets directly on-line to the customers. This put thousands of travel agents out of business. Those that remained could only make money by booking hotels, tours and cruises. The airlines had an answer for this and began putting offers for hotels, tours and cruises on their websites since people were going there to book their flights why not get their money for the hotels too. (Keep in mind that on top of all this the airlines are being subsidized by the US Government. The travel agents are not.) Money that would have been spread through a community ends up in the pockets of a handful of billionaires. More people out of work. Fewer people traveling but there are less people the money has to be shared with because those pesky travel agents are out of the picture. And you can trust a large corporation to tell you what is good about your holiday destination.

Kiki Zikou of Dolphin Hellas with a lifetime in the travel businessI know a lot of travel agents. There is one thing you can say about a travel agent that they all have in common. They love their job, or at least they used to until things became so difficult for them. They are in the business of making people happy. They use their experience to help someone make the most of their holiday and good agents are rewarded not just financially but by the letters thanking them for the good time the client had because of their hard work and knowledge. As our world becomes more automated and impersonal travel agents are an endangered species.

When I first met Denis Hamosfakidis of Dolphin Hellas and told him about the internet he told me "Mathios (That's my name in Greek). This is not the way. A travel agent must be personal with the customer. To be able to know what is best for the customer you can only know by having a relationship and this you can't do with the internet". I disagreed because I knew how personal relationships can be on the internet and I think I was right. But at the same time, like the dark side of the force, the internet is accelerating the extinction of the local travel agent and the personal relationships that Denis was talking about and while we can all be happy because we saved some money now, in a few years we will realize that we have lost something more valuable.

Sofia Siqueira of Fantasy TravelFor the hotels and the airlines and the giant automated booking websites it is all about money. If that is what matters most to the traveler then they should spend hours on the net looking for the best deal because only they know the joy they feel when they have found a bargain. I happen to believe that to put yourself in the hands of a good travel agent, working with them to create the best itinerary, using their expertise to find the most suitable hotel, traveling with the secure feeling that if there are any problems he or she is a phone call away is the most sensible way to travel. You have someone to answer all your questions and if you have your doubts they can be addressed. They can get you to and from the airport and ferries and they can tell you the ferry and flight schedules. And when you get to your hotel there will be a little envelope waiting for you with the tickets. Most importantly they represent your interests and will do their best to make sure you have the best holiday possible. Not because they are all Mother Teresas doing goodness for the sake of goodness alone, but because their existence depends on your happiness. If you love Greece you will return and you will also tell your friends. They keep the jobs that they love and go on helping people rather then get stuck behind a computer punching names and numbers into a database.

When I visit the agencies in Athens they show me gifts they have gotten from happy clients. Smoked salmon from Washington State. CDs of local music. Boxes of chocolate, T-shirts, photos and cards and stacks of e-mail all out of gratitude. When is the last time you sent a gift to an airline or a hotel booking site?

John Stavrides of Fantasy Travel has 20 years in the travel bizThe Hotel wants you to book directly with them. They will offer you discounts. Will they offer you advice? Can you write back and forth to the hotel asking about the islands, which restaurants are the best, the ferry times? Will they book your flights and ferries for you? Will they give you an impartial appraisal on their hotel besides telling you it is the best or the most beautiful? Will they give you your money back if you miss the only boat that day or you made a mistake and there was no boat that day? Will they find you a hotel on the island you are stuck on because there is no boat? The answer is no. A travel agent will do all these things and in the end saves you money.

As a travel writer I am stuck in the middle of all these opposing factions. I have friends who own hotels and I have friends who are travel agents. I even have friends with the airlines. The only places I don't have friends are with the giant on-line booking services who wish people like me would disappear so they can be the ones telling you what you want.  There are people who spend weeks reading my website. They contact the agents and e-mail back and forth asking questions getting the agents to do their research for them. Then they contact the hotels directly and book with them to save a few euros. I realize that I can't control who uses my site and what they do with the information. But those who exploit the agencies and get them to do hours of work for nothing and in the end give their business to whoever gives them the best deal, besides being purely selfish are also bringing the day closer when there won't be any more travel agencies and there won't be websites like mine.

The best way to use the internet and my website is to research your trip so you can make informed decisions when you work with the agency.

I could go on about the merits of using travel agents, not just in Greece but in general. Instead I invite you to read the comments of travelers by going to:

Support Travel agencies!
We won't realize how much we needed them until they are gone and then it will be too late.

I highly recommend these travel agencies for anything you want to do in Greece:

Matt Barrett