Reno Travel Agents: Surviving in an Online Age
There's probably no bigger victim of buying online than your local Reno travel agent. How are they surviving, and adapting?
Our local travel agencies have taken a big hit with the rise of online booking platforms. Many folks think the live, local travel agent is going, if not gone already, with phone booths and rotary dial phones. At Reno's Welcome Aboard Travel, reports of their demise are highly exaggerated. As president of the longtime agency Leonard Wohletz told me, "I was just reading, looking over figures. So far this year we're ahead of last year."
This, in the face of an online bargain travel onslaught and booking competition from no less than Costco, which is right around the corner from his shop. Leonard told me, "With Costco, it’s a very impersonal thing. They have no travel experts. There’s nobody to give them advice, nobody to help them."
At one time, as late as the 1990’s, there were dozens of travel agents in Reno-Sparks. At Reno's Quail Travel, owner Naim Alabed says he can remember when there were 25. Today, we're down to a small handful of 4 that answered the phone. Some we called were just recorded messages. But at Quail Travel, it's like time stood still. Still there: the brochures on the table…the posters on the wall. And at her desk, Patty Blay books a trip: "OK so I'll go ahead and ticket the American flights..." Booking trips like everyone used to. Running the shop is a true travel expert. Naim told me, "I've been in this business for about 34 years." Leonard has been involved with the travel business for 51.
They both attract folks who want peace of mind and reassurance and a real person to speak with if things go wrong. Both say they get a lot of business from former online users who came back. Leonard knows one: "He missed the cruise! With his family! Because he didn't realize he had to plan on leaving here a day earlier plus leeway in addition to that which we recommend."
Across town at Quail Travel, Naim told me, “At the end of the day if something goes wrong, you come to me. Not somebody on the internet.” Can he offer the same deals we see online? "We can offer the same deals and as I said, we can offer something extra." And as Leonard at Welcome Aboard Travel told me, "There's a big difference between price and value. I believe we can always provide a better value."
Sure, this field has been hit hard by the internet. Most of the "bennies" are also gone. Naim says, "We used to get upgraded, we used to get benefits. But it's still a lot of fun. I love my job, I enjoy it. I enjoy when my clients come back and say, 'Thank you.'"
Travel agents do get a cut from the hotels, resorts, cruises, trains and packages they book with. But they no longer get commission from the airlines. Both Welcome Aboard and Quail Travel charge between $30 and $50 to book a flight.