/ Travel & Leisure

Do specialist travel companies make your holiday happier?

Woman in hammock reading travel guide

When booking a holiday, is it worth going to a specialist travel company? Our research shows it could make you more satisfied with your holiday – is that enough to encourage you to give one a try?

I’ve just come back from a conference where I met lots of independent travel agents and tour operators, many of whom sell amazing holidays for people with a particular destination interest or hobby.

Many were true specialists with incredible knowledge, setting up their business simply because they wanted to share (or have an excuse for) their passion for their interests.

Paying the price for specialist knowledge

These agents and operators are as concerned about the economy as we all are. As they don’t sell in bulk or control the holiday process by owning their own airlines or hotels, they can’t easily discount – and not to the extent that customers often ask them to.

In this world where we are all encouraged to shop around for the best deal, use online vouchers and price comparison websites, and have the expectation that great service should be for everyone regardless of the price you pay, many are finding business very challenging.

Spare a thought for the specialist Africa operator who told me, ‘putting together a detailed holiday itinerary for someone could easily take a week or more. That is a lot of wasted time and money if the customer doesn’t then go on to book with us.’

Satisfaction guaranteed?

The research company Mintel tells us that nearly two-thirds of all holidays are booked without the services of a travel agent or tour operator; we simply do things ourselves these days. This figure has grown steadily over the years as more people have access to the internet and faster broadband service.

But as we get better at putting these holidays together ourselves, are we really missing out on something that these specialists could have provided? Our own research at Which? Travel has found that people who used a specialist travel company (one that helped them book transport and accommodation) are more likely to be very satisfied with their holiday compared to those using other travel companies, and they are also more likely to say that they would definitely recommend that company to a friend.

So while our research shows that specialists certainly win out against travel companies in the market generally, can they win out against you as individuals? When is it worth paying the price of a specialist in travel – or would you never consider using one?

Jean Bradley says:
26 June 2011

Yes, it is vital to buy a package holiday and relevant insurance. When English ladies are travelling in Foreign places it can be very unsettling and frightening.
Especially approaches and lears from foreigners.. Although one would always be dressed for decorum with no short Skirts showing long, glossy, sun kissed legs or tops showing extreme pushed up cleavage. One should avoid the scarlet reds in lip wear also, a delicate shell pink being most accceptable. A Parasol, or Sun Umbrella, is an absolute must and can be used as a weapon if you drop the hat pin!

Even having scarlet enamel on Toe Nails is taboo I am afraid! Clear or again a shell pink is fine.
You see, To explain as delicately as I can, red, scarlet, especially worn with shiny, slimy lip ‘gloss’ is in the foreign males brain, a colour of sexual invitation and arousal, YES! I know I may shock. it has to be said for your own protection and virtue, the conduct of the foreign male is very far removed from our own dear English men – very far indeed. I will not embarrass any rather unworldly gals with issues of lengths and sizes here, after all myths are easily explained away. (forgive the rather risque language, but we are women of certain age and I am president of the WI, strictly a leading honourary role of course, NO, I do not jam make or have ever baked even one bun! In fact I cannot ever remember going into what is called a kitchen or scullery in my whole life. I never have been in the Nursery. Horrid places I am told.
The Head Cook and Housekeeper see to domestic affairs thank you very much, and what treasures they are by the way, both being over 94. Of course, if they left devoted service here where would they go? They have known only one life, a life devoted to me. They would pine away and expire. As would James the Butler who is 89 years old and rather deaf now but manages quite well with his atificial limb, eye and toupe’
I do believe there are various women who keep everything ‘ship shape and bristol fashion’ (a fond saying of dear Papas) , there are about 9 ‘maid of all works’ on the annual stipend my solicitor keeps bothering me with once every year for signature. They must be somewhere around, of course, but being trained in the 1900s ‘old school’ type of service, they rushes out of sight, they does if the mistress, me, happens to come along. To refer back to your original query of me regarding my vital travel advice.

If one must wear trousers they must NOT, in any circumstances be tight fitting, especially around the crotch or crutch. This can lead to what one of my personal maids, Marga, has given me the shocking details of – a ‘camel foot’ a quite, quite obscene sceneario. Let me tell you, use your imagination and when you realise what that is, get out your listerine – and USE it. You must always remember when abroad you are actually an ambassador for England and as such any of the foreigners will judge not just you, yourself, in person, but your demeaner and carriage, your whole behaviour will be scrutinised, even copied. So! Remember YOUR DUTY to The Country of your birth! and the dear, dear Royal Family who are an example to us all. Following a few simple rules on feminine safety issues and composure will help towards this safety – but the best thing to do really IS TO STOP AT HOME!
Anyhow, just when did Bogner or Broadstairs and the English Riviera, Torquay etc become less de rigure? Just you tell me that! If you know, of course. Herne Bay has always been very accommodating to me, I can tell you. Of course when the dear Colonial was alive he would whisk me off to Monte Carlo and the French Riviera at the drop of a bat! He was most kind in engaging the services of a very accomodating Doctor, who supplied my wonderful opiate sleeping draughts for my much needed, many, ‘naps’ I got so, so exhausted, why sometimes I would retire at 2pm and not be awaked by my maid until 10 am the next day?

I feel so uncomfortable now for just whatwould he have been able to do whilst not in my company? In the South of France of al god forsaken places? Thank goodness the dear old Doctor came back to Blighty with us and is now a valued family retainer we Renamed him Doctor Soportsus, foreign sounding I know, but I assure you no trace of any accent when consulting him, and so free with my ‘little helpers’. That is what my maids call my wonderful medicama. Time for my nap with Topsy Lou, My devoted Peke, you know..”coming bates, I prefer the injection today, I hope it is prepared!……”
Regards, On behalf of my mistress,
Countess Bibbleeen La Smythe

Hello Jean, although your comment is meant to be a joke, it could be offensive to some and is borderline ‘trolling’ (ie. to provoke members of the community into a desired emotional response). Please try and take note of our Commenting Guidelines in the future: https://conversation.which.co.uk/commenting-guidelines/ Thanks.

pickle says:
26 June 2011

Humour aside – specialist travel agencies serve you well, but they are expensive. You makes your choice ans pay accordingly.

Martin Radcliffe says:
16 July 2011

Hi, When booking a holiday via Thomsons I get a quote from the Thomson website, print it off, and then take it into my local Thomson branch, who will then match the website price, web discount and all.

This way I get the web discount with the advantage of have someone to talk to face-to-face if there’s a problem.

The do require you to have printed off the web quote on the day you approach the branch tho’

In the past I’ve taken Thomson’s web quotes into a Thomas Cook branch and had them match the Thomsons website price as well for a Thomsons holiday.

Stephen says:
5 August 2011

Just following up on Martin’s comment. For the last 10 years I have booked my holiday with Thomas Cook at a local branch. This year I looked on their web-site, but could not find the hotel in the resort I normally go too. But to my surprise, the travel consultant said, ‘..lets see if Thomson have it…!’ They did, so the holiday was booked with Thomson via Thomas Cook. I got the web discount plus any discount from Thomas Cook, making the holiday to Greece value for money. This co-operation between two rival Travel Agents gives the customer more choices with two of the biggest Travel Agents in the UK, which many people have walked away from in favor of buget holidays, of which now many are have folded or are struggling.
With Thomas Cook or Thomson, I know I’m safe. Yes, going on holday to a Euro-zone country is not good with a very weak pound. So I go Half-Board or All-inclusive, it take the worry out of were and what to eat & drink, but everyone has there own opinion and what they expect in a holday, especially young adults, who go for a good night-life.

howard says:
22 July 2012

What a difference a year makes! Stephen’s confidence in the mighty Thomas Cook must have taken a knock or two since he wrote this. Bigger does not necessarilly mean more secure and often does not deliver the same expertise as smaller specialists. With time and money in short supply people should be more concerned about getting their choice of holiday correct – and specialists will maximise this opportunity – rather than restricting themselves to mass market packages through the less flexible big suppliers.

I use the internet to research holidays, tripadvisor, virgin holidays, ba and virgin website, hayes & jarvis etc. I also look at brochures. The last two holidays I have done this way and then rung consolidators, netflights, best at travel, destinology. I booked my last 2 with best at travel over the phone, the person answering the phone was knowledable about the area, Maldives and Barbados and was able to get me scheduled flights and tell me what offers were available for different resorts/hotels. Kuoni couldn’t get near to the prices I got, or BA/virgin holidays.
I have also booked accommodation only through destinology when booking flights myself using BA or Virgin miles.
I like to use the independant companiesaswell, like Cyplon for Cyprus and Classic collection when going to Majorca. I’ve also used cruise specialists which are always cheaper than going direct to the cruise company.
I do expend an awful lot of time and energy, BUT on the occasions when I have used high st agencies I invariably find I am more informed than the sales staff.

patty says:
28 April 2018

I just took a Morocco trip with Titan Travel and it had great things about it, but the tour guide let us down so much, he just wasn’t a tour guide, just a facilitator. How do you guarantee a great tour guide?