Penny Clark, owner of Travel Time of Everett Inc., at her home office on Tuesday, April 23, 2024 in Arlington, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Penny Clark, owner of Travel Time of Everett Inc., at her home office on Tuesday, April 23, 2024 in Arlington, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

In a changing industry, travel agents ‘so busy’ navigating modern travel

While online travel tools are everywhere, travel advisers still prove useful — and popular, says Penny Clark, of Travel Time in Arlington.

When Penny Clark started Arlington-based Travel Time in 1989, planning an international vacation without a travel adviser was a daunting task.

The internet didn’t exist.

“If you wanted to fly somewhere you would have had to call every airline that flew to that destination in order to find out what was the best price,” Clark said.

Travel agents, on the other hand, typically had the information at their fingertips, she said.

Although many travelers now use the internet to plan their vacations, travel advisers are far from obsolete.

In fact, 2023 was Clark’s second-busiest year in her 35 years in business, and 2024 is shaping up to be just as big, she said.

“I’m so busy, it’s kind of hard to keep my head above water,” Clark said.

Traveling post-COVID

Many travel agencies closed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

That could explain the influx in business for Clark.

Travel agents who kept their doors open during the pandemic saw an uptick in business, according to a March 2021 poll conducted by the American Society of Travel Advisors. More than 75% reported an increase in business, and 80% saw clients who’d never used an adviser.

“There were so many people stranded during COVID, and if you had an agent, you were lucky,” Clark said.

Travel agents were more easily able to coordinate trip changes and bring home “stranded” people whose flights had been canceled, she said. Plus agents typically offer trip insurance, meaning travelers “got all their money back” if they had to cancel their trip, Clark said.

Agents can also help with headaches that arise on trips, said Lake Stevens based adviser Beth Graef, of Travelmation.

“When a problem arises, all they have to do is shoot me a text,” Graef said. “They continue enjoying their vacation while I work in the background and take care of everything for them.”

Beth Graef, an independent agent with Travelmation. (Photo courtesy of Beth Graef)

Beth Graef, an independent agent with Travelmation. (Photo courtesy of Beth Graef)

Krysten Coughlin, of Marysville, has never used a travel adviser, but wished she had when she planned a trip to Disneyland.

Balancing trip planning, work and being a mom was overwhelming, she said.

“You’re putting all of this information into a system and then even trying to go to sleep, and you wake up in the middle of the night, and you’re like, ‘I should have thought of this,’” she said.

At what cost?

One common misconception is that advisers are expensive, Clark said.

While prices vary from agency to agency, travel advisers are often paid through commissions from hotels, airlines, cruises and tour operators and do not charge a service fee.

Planning a trip with an adviser can sometimes cost the same or less than planning on your own, Graef said.

Glen Mixdorf has used Clark’s services for over a dozen years. Mixdorf often goes to Clark with a trip outline and she helps put the puzzle pieces together. After Clark’s revisions, Mixdorf frequently realizes his initial plan is more expensive and convoluted.

Often, Clark only charges service fees for more involved international trips.

Some agencies charge for passport and visa help, while others include those charges in the package. And travelers can usually get a quote from an adviser before they dive into trip planning.

How to find a travel adviser

Finding the right adviser depends on your personal style, wants and needs.

Graef specializes in Disney trips, family vacations and corporate groups looking to attend seminars and workshops.

Clark, meanwhile, has found her niche in group trips for retirees.

Most of Clark’s clients come via referral. She suggests those new to working with a travel adviser start by asking friends and family for recommendations.

Travelers can also seek out local businesses or find advisers on the travel adviser society’s directory.

“We (Travelmation) have over 1,800 agents across the country,” Graef said. “We have an agent who specializes in Japan travel, for instance. When we get clients that contact us and want a very detailed Japan itinerary, we say, ‘Great, we have a Japan specialist, I’ll send you her contact information.’ We’re a very collaborative company.”

A Google search for “travel advisers near me” may suffice, but exploring Facebook groups tailored to your trip or local groups are also helpful in finding an adviser.

When you do it yourself

The travel industry is constantly changing. It can be helpful to navigate those changes with an expert, but some aspects of travel can be managed independently using the internet.

“If you just called me up, to say, ‘Hey, can you get me a ticket from Everett to LA?’ I’d probably say, ‘No, I don’t do that anymore,’” Clark said.

Snohomish-based travel expert Kim Tate started her travel blog Stuffed Suitcase in 2012 to help fellow moms navigate traveling with small children.

Since launching her blog, Tate has written a travel planning book called Wanderlist, and co-hosts Vacation Mavens, a podcast exploring family travel. More than 100,000 people follow her on Instagram.

Tate is not a licensed adviser, but she loves helping people, especially women, feel confident to travel. Wanderlist aims to demystify the travel planning process for novice travelers.

“I found so much joy in traveling when I finally could travel and I actually enjoy planning,” Tate said. “I like breaking things apart, really figuring out the way the puzzle fits together to plan a vacation, but not everyone is skilled that way or knows how to think that way.”

Kim Tate, author of the travel blog Stuffed Suitcase, poses next to an elephant in Uganda. (Photo courtesy of Kim Tate)

Kim Tate, author of the travel blog Stuffed Suitcase, poses next to an elephant in Uganda. (Photo courtesy of Kim Tate)

Using online tools instead of a travel adviser depends on the traveler’s comfort level with planning and the complexity of the trip, Tate said. She recommends Google Maps to pick out restaurants and attractions for simple domestic vacations, and Roadtripper for road trips.

Tate loves planning trips, but still thinks there is a time and place for advisers.

Recently, she went gorilla trekking in Uganda. A Ugandan travel adviser helped map out her adventure.

“When you’re doing big bucket list trips, or if you’re not used to traveling internationally,” Tate said, “I think that having an agent plan things for you can be really useful.”

Kate Erickson: kate.erickson@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @katerickson_.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Business

Two couples walk along Hewitt Avenue around lunchtime on Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2022 in Lynnwood, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Everett businesses say it’s time the city had its own Chamber of Commerce

The state’s seventh-largest city hasn’t had a chamber since 2011. After 13 years, businesses are rallying for its return.

Students Mary Chapman, left, and Nano Portugal, right, work together with a fusion splicer and other equipment during a fiber optic technician training demonstration at Sno-Isle TECH Skills Center on Tuesday, May 28, 2024, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Sno-Isle students on the path to becoming fiber professionals

The state will roll out $1.2 billion to close gaps in internet access. But not enough professionals are working to build the infrastructure.

Washingtonians lost $250M to scammers in 2023

Identity theft, imposter scams and phony online ads were the most common schemes, a new study says.

LETI founder and president Rosario Reyes, left, and LETI director of operations Thomas Laing III, right, pose for a photo at the former Paroba College in Everett, Washington on Saturday, June 1, 2024. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Woman brings Latino culture to business education in Snohomish County

Rosario Reyes spent the past 25 years helping other immigrants thrive. Now, she’s focused on sustaining her legacy.

Annie Crawley poses for a photo with her scuba gear at Brackett’s Landing near the Port of Edmonds on Saturday, Feb. 3, 2024 in Edmonds, Washington. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Edmonds ocean activist to kids: Life is better under the sea

From clownfish to kelp, Annie Crawley has been teaching kids and adults about the ocean’s wonders for three decades.

Reed Macdonald, magniX CEO. Photo: magniX
Everett-based magniX appoints longtime aerospace exec as new CEO

Reed Macdonald will take the helm at a pivotal time for the company that builds electric motors for airplanes.

People walk along a newly constructed bridge at the Big Four Ice Caves hike along the Mountain Loop Highway in Snohomish County, Washington on Wednesday, July 19, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Check out the best tourist attractions in Snohomish County

Here’s a taste of what to do and see in Snohomish County, from shopping to sky diving.

People walk out of the Columbia Clearance Store at Seattle Premium Outlets on Thursday, April 25, 2024 in Quil Ceda Village, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Head to Tulalip for retail recreation at Seattle Premium Outlets

The outlet mall has over 130 shops. You might even bring home a furry friend.

Brandon Baker, deputy director for the Port of Edmonds, shows off the port's new logo. Credit: Port of Edmonds
A new logo sets sail for the Port of Edmonds

Port officials say after 30 years it was time for a new look

Penny Clark, owner of Travel Time of Everett Inc., at her home office on Tuesday, April 23, 2024 in Arlington, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
In a changing industry, travel agents ‘so busy’ navigating modern travel

While online travel tools are everywhere, travel advisers still prove useful — and popular, says Penny Clark, of Travel Time in Arlington.

Travis Furlanic shows the fluorescent properties of sulfur tuft mushrooms during a Whidbey Wild Mushroom Tour at Tilth Farmers Market on Saturday, April 27, 2024 in Langley, Washington. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
On Whidbey Island, local fungi forager offers educational mushroom tours

Every spring and fall, Travis Furlanic guides groups through county parks. His priority, he said, is education.

ZeroAvia founder and CEO Val Mifthakof, left, shows Gov. Jay Inslee a hydrogen-powered motor during an event at ZeroAvia’s new Everett facility on Wednesday, April 24, 2024, near Paine Field in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
ZeroAvia’s new Everett center ‘a huge step in decarbonizing’ aviation

The British-American company, which is developing hydrogen-electric powered aircraft, expects one day to employ hundreds at the site.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.