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Saturday, July 22, 2017

THE SASTA MUSAFIR (TRAVEL ADVICE)


THE SASTA MUSAFIR (TRAVEL ADVICE)

WHY YOU SHOULD ALWAYS SELECT A LOCAL TRAVEL PARTNER VS ONLINE BOOKINGS & HOW TO DO SO!

When you travel it is stressful enough as it is as you have more things on your mind to take care of before you leave and then many other things as well because life is not really kind and the situations around you or circumstances surprise you by throwing last minute emergencies to tackle!

With so much on your mind the last thing you need to do is get to the airport and before you board find out that your flights or visas had some complication due to some small print you did not read before you paid online OR get to the end destination and were expecting an Island Paradise but wound up in a bamboo shack in a seedy district because the online booking portal some how made a mistake or due to the time lags did not convey the booking correctly to “that one” dream paradise resort you wanted to visit but was out in the boondocks so they were not so tech savvy to get the exact booking details relayed to them!  (yes these things have happened to me where I actually booked online in Europe with a major European hotel chain but when I got to the hotel I was informed that the system had charged me and booked me at some other venue about 37 kilometers away and there was no refund)

One of the major factors in reducing unwelcome surprises during travelling anywhere (be it domestic or international) is to have a Travel Partner or better known as a Travel Agency work with you.   I always recommend a local travel partner to anyone I know in the MENA regions vs the online booking options for the following reasons.

1.     All travel portals have some contact number (if they do at all) run by some third party contractor sitting in some garage in a shanty town who says his name is Alex (example) but sounds more like Vijay (example) who really does not know how to spell your name leave alone pronounce it!  So this lack of personal attention or human element personally for a guy like me who travels with family for pleasure and by my self for business is a huge let down as I cannot afford screw ups!
2.     What you pay for online in countries like Pakistan, India, Bangladesh or even Nepal & Philippines for that matter can be very risky as these countries have fluid cyber crime laws and you can be a victim of identity theft for one or even if you make your payment online and you screw up then you do not get immediate refunds which can be quite a cumbersome process to deal with.
3.     The IT infrastructure in these countries along with their own banking laws and exchange rates can really hurt you if you do not understand the value added incentives that are often hidden.  Which means that you have a budget of say US$ 100/- and you see a hotel room for say US$ 89/- so you think you are good but then when you take breakfast and a few transfers from the airport which are hidden you fall off your chair because you were billed for all of these things because even the local taxes were not fully shown and your bill when charged is maybe US$ 135/- 
4.     The really hidden feature that I personally hate about online travel and hospitality billing systems is that they have so much global traffic so they batch process the orders at one time to save the costs to pass the discounts on to you!  Which means that you book air tickets and hotels and say for example tickets to Disney for a total of US$ 1,000/- when todays exchange rate is maybe (example) 100 Pakistani Rupees.  The Dollar value equivalent is blocked on your card and an approval is done but when the batch processing cycle happens the equivalent in Pakistani rupees exchange rate could have gone up to say 105 rupees (example only) so you wind up having a further surprise!  Before checking out of your online travel portal cart you should always check if the online portal has its own online payment gateway or uses a third party gateway (hidden processing fees – hello!)

I do not mean to scare you but if you decide that you want to go with a Travel partner then here are some reasons why you should always have a “local” travel partner who has physical presence in your own country!

1.     You will pay in your own country in your own currency
2.     Your own travel agents if BIG enough will pass on additional options and discounts to you to satisfy you to keep the relationship.
3.     They will present you with an invoice which will be detailed and a document you can view to see the exact hidden charges
4.     Will have more in depth knowledge when it comes to choosing hotels as you might travel once a while but for them their volumes of daily travel allow them a personal insight as to how good a hotel actually is as their customers always tell them if anything is wrong!  (so maybe it will look dreamy online but your agent will be able to tell you if its actually worth it or just will be a disappointment)

When it comes to selecting a travel partner here are some valuable things to keep in mind.
1.     DO NOT go on what a friend will tell you or recommend!  Reasons are that if you have a sibling then both your life experiences were different so apply the same rule to the Travel Partner because what worked for your buddy recommending the agency might not work with you! Also I have personally found that when people go to travel agents from a referral of a “FRAND” yes FRAND the travel agent assumes that the business is guaranteed and does not really give attention to details!  So look around every where and choose for your self and do not rely upon references or Jugaar (short cuts)
2.     Look at the license of the Travel agent and see its duration of how old it is and the entire history of the agency because the older an agency is the more likely it will be to make sure it does things right so that it will not get a bad name!  New bright shiny exciting travel and tourism companies promise a whole lot of things yet are unable to deliver as they rely on the old ones and their rates are and can be a bit questionable.
3.     Check out what their IATA ratings are online – its public information you can google your self
4.     If you are in a country like Pakistan then make sure your travel agent is from a major travel hub (city) like Karachi or if in India then Mumbai or Dehli because the volumes of flights to and from those cities will justify the Travel Agents being in the same city as the Airline its self so fixing issues getting more attention to detail etc. will be easier for you in the end.
5.     All Travel agents today that are good and credible with a respectable IATA rating have an in house visa section (today you need to apply in person for some countries like UK / USA even Thailand if you have not visited it in 2 years or are applying for a first visa) but the paper work can be very complicated and honest and good travel agents will have a visa section that will go over your documents completely and advise you what to add or deduct from the documents to submit before you spend the NON refundable visa fees!  Always note that these travel agencies will do their best to ensure your case is as perfect as possible because if you get the visa then they will make the money from the travel you will do!   Also maybe these agencies might charge anywhere from US$ 50/– to US$ 75/- just to cover their costs of attestations / photocopying or even sending a rider to get your visa pay orders made for you!
6.     Also look at the offline support that they can give you when you are out of country in the sense that would you be able to contact them on WhatsApp or skype or messenger in the case of an unfortunate incident like a demise at home and you need to make immediate changes and rush home or even extend your stay.  Physical reputed travel agencies in your home country always have the human element you can reach out to that makes your travel experience even more comfortable which online portals do not have as one cannot argue with a computer but your Travel partner can fight with the Airline to get your emergencies addressed.

Bottom line when you decide upon a Travel Partner as I like to call them make sure that you

1.     Are very honest with them about everything like your funds and budget their job is to help you like a lawyer, banker or doctor so hiding things from them or lying to your travel partner will only cause you further delays when it comes to getting what you want!
2.     If your wallet can afford a domestic trip then do that and forget about dreams of an Alaskan cruise which will cost a lot so make sure you tell more details to your travel partner to get you the best value for money
3.     If you family observes Hijab or Pardah or has special dietary restrictions like being vegetarian or have allergies to pollen or medicines or foods also relay those to your travel agents.  An accredited travel agent who has a good reputation will always have solutions for disabled travellers or people with special needs like me as I am partially disabled and need some special services when I travel!  Oh yes the same applies to parents who want a relaxing experience when it come to travelling with toddlers.

You need to know that getting a consultation from any one travel partner does not mean that it will be market standard rates as there may be biryani cooked in two homes but their cost in each home to make the same dish would be different so don’t go on rates when finalizing who to go with rather look at the value of services the Travel partner can give to you!

The world may be modern with a lot more exposure but in trying to be more tech efficient things do get quite complicated so be wise and choose your travel partner wisely!  Not on emotions!

I am in the travel industry myself and this post is not to solicit business but to rather inform and help people I see who really could use some sound advice!

Feel free to inbox me on FaceBook if you want any advice or help with questions about visas, destinations or anything for that matter specially if you are travelling with kids or disabled. You can inbox me here - https://www.facebook.com/AmynAGhulamali or on linked in here - https://www.linkedin.com/in/amynaghulamali/

Have a great travel experience & please like / share this post if you found any value in it!  

Thank you,
Amyn

Please Note!  This is not a commercial blog post to solicit business it is written out of fun for information purposes so if there are any grammatical / spelling mistakes do let them go! 


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