This past week I spent traveling throughout Belize with a group of travel agents as press on behalf of the Belize Tourism Expo (BETEX), a travel industry event designed for wholesalers and some retail travel agents. Following the two-day conference, there were post tours available that attendees could sign up for that specialized in different aspects of Belize travel.
Admittedly, I am one who books my own travel outright versus going through a travel agent. I am also one who is guilty of the belief that booking through an agent is more expensive or that I can do everything easier on my own. Going into the conference, I knew it would be an interesting experience given my pre-conceived notions on travel agents as a whole.
After the conference, we spent the four days traipsing around different parts of Belize on what it is commonly referred to as a “FAM” trip. I lost count of how many hotel site inspections we did, how many mosquito bites I have, and the number of blisters still on my feet. But one thing I’ve taken away from this trip is a newfound respect for travel agents.
This was really a FAM trip on steroids as I started every day with a 5am wake up and usually ended the night drooling on my keyboard while passing out at 11pm after failed attempts to get any work done.
So many people think travel is glamorous and all we writers/bloggers do is lay on the beach, sipping umbrella drinks and working on our tans. I photographed some of the most beautiful pools in Belize this trip…and set foot in none.
Despite spending more nights in hotels versus my own bed on a regular basis and being used to busy itineraries, this trip knocked me on my behind. I’m the one who tried to keep up with these guys who managed to stay active and engaged after looking at 10 different properties in a day, taking notes, while still handling work issues and client calls throughout the day, never once uttering more than an occasional I am tired and/or sore.
I’ve learned a lot about the travel agent business, how wholesalers work, and what dedication and passion these people have for their job. They weren’t there because it was a free trip – they paid to be there and voluntarily put themselves through this rigorous itinerary in order to better understand how to serve their clients.
While I may travel to Belize far more often than these guys, they definitely know the country. And listening to the questions they ask, it’s certainly opened my eyes to new things I should be looking for and including when I feature properties, or write up hotel reviews, for various sites.
These agents and wholesalers know their clientele and they recognize them as people, not merely as a commission they received. There was genuine excitement when they realized they could book a property for a specific client, or when they received an email from a client who just returned from a successful trip. Many times throughout the day, they would tell their travel partners, “I just received a message from Mr. and Mrs. X and they had a fabulous time on their trip.”
While some may assume we all are independent travelers, the fact remains not everyone is and a large percentage of the population utilizes travel agents. The internet did not kill the industry as many speculated, and in speaking with some agents, they did not even feel a hiccup during the recent economic downturn. That comes not only from a strong business plan, but primarily from the loyal following they built by giving their clients the vacation of their dreams.
This trip was been one of the most eye-opening experiences I’ve had in my career. There was a press group trip, but that was for people who work in the wholesale trade industry itself. I am the only consumer writer who followed these agents and I think my experience was far more authentic versus spending a few additional days with other members of the media.
While our ties to the industry are quite different, ultimately we are all just puzzle pieces that fit together in the gigantic world of travel. Our roles are unique, yet we unknowingly depend on each other to get people out and traveling the world. During our time together, we touched a lot of lives in Belize, and the passion we share for our jobs, travel in general, and certainly the country of Belize, was immediately and genuinely evident.
We did a lot of networking and we all found successes in our time together, despite different agendas. I’ve developed new relationships with properties and companies, and these people have truly become friends. I already began missing them after parting ways only hours before.
Going forward, I am more likely to utilize a travel agent when booking a trip to an unfamiliar destination as I have tremendous respect and faith that these guys are going to steer me in the right direction. And if you ever need a recommendation for an agent who specializes in Belize, shoot me an email as I now have a list of people who will literally work day and night to make sure your Belize vacation is everything you dreamed it would be.
Look for full coverage on my time at BETEX to start appearing on: