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Why bother with an agent?

April 12, 2016

photo.JPGI’m back. Like my crossing of the Drake Passage, I have survived, so no more on that.
But I must say that while fighting off the Grim Reaper I did quite a bit of reading, everything from the brilliant Maisky Diaries (he was the Russian ambassador to UK 1932-1943) to a re-read of The Fatal Shore, Robert Hughes’ epic story of the settlement of Australia, and a must for anyone going there, particularly by ship.
I was also happy to see Cruise News, produced by Mundy Cruising of London for its clients, as this helped keep me up to date with developments in the luxury end of the cruise industry with reviews of vessels, as well as entertaining columns by Edwina Lonsdale, the managing director, and her husband, Matthew, who don’t hold back (that’s them in the picture, on Europa2) with informed opinions on what is happening in the world afloat.
Here I must confess an interest — I write for the magazine, as do other journalists, and staff at the agency. Nothing secondhand here.
But Edwina is the star. In the current issue she dared tackle the issue of why book with an agent?
There’s no doubt that the internet makes some people think they can do it all by themselves, and for less. Wrong.
As Edwina explains, a good agent does not just sell you a cruise, she directs you to the right ship. She writes: “It’s all very well reading reviews on the internet, but how do they help you? Do you know these people? Do they know you? Do they understand your weird family dynamics? And when everything falls apart, will they be there to pick up the pieces? I don’t think so.”
She continues: “What you need is someone who will take the time to listen to you – understand your foibles, the things you passionately hate, and the things which make the difference between a success and a disaster for your particular family. And you, have gone through that process with you and helped you choose the perfect itinerary, ship and departure date, will then start work on enhancing the trip with better flight options, hotel stays, pre-organized excursions, dinner reservations and more.
“What’s more, they will then reassure you that you have made the best choice, and calm your anxieties. If God forbid, anything should go wrong, they will be there to sort it out. and the best things— it won’t cost you a penny!”
This is true. Commissions paid to travel agents are not available to passengers who book themselves.
Many blunder aboard not aware that the same cabin can cost more on different decks – usually more expensive as you go up. Savvy cruisers, and agents, know that the higher you go, the more a ship will roll in bad weather, adding to your discomfort.
And as for hotel stays, I once did a radio interview in which a UK woman complained that her Alaska cruise was all very well but it was a long way to go for a week. A good agent would have encouraged her to linger in Vancouver or Victoria, visit the mountain resort of Whistler, or take a scenic rail journey like the Rocky Mountaineer then flying home from Calgary.
My own advice is to pay as much as you can rather than as little. As my old mother said, you get what you pay for, and while Mundy often has great deals on offer, the kind of ships it represents are the cream of the crop.
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