GOLOCAL

It's been a tough time for the travel industry but with the domestic market opening up, travel agents hope people will see what they have to offer.

Carla McKinnon, owner/operator of House of Travel Wanganui, says prospective travellers may not get the best deal by avoiding travel agencies and looking and booking online.

"We've got access to all that and more," she says. "That's why our 'Better Together' motto is so important, because we are better together. With what you've seen and with what I know, and the relationships I have with suppliers, you would get a better deal than just what you would get online."

Travel agents started feeling the pinch in February as the world situation changed and overseas trips were no longer a safe or viable option.

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"People were asking then if they should be worried about the coronavirus, but no one then knew the extent of where we were going. Then all of a sudden the world flipped."

Right now, it's all about domestic travel.

"We've got a really loyal client base," says Carla, "So we've got clients contacting us now."

She says while these people might have travelled in New Zealand independently, they are asking for House of Travel's expertise and asking if their custom will help the business.

"I've done a ski holiday for a family today — rental car, accommodation, flights, ski passes, kids' babysitting on the mountain, you name it, it can be packaged — a campervan holiday, on Friday I booked two cruises for Australia ... people are out there still wanting to travel and we're seeing we have a good enough relationship with our clients that they want to see our doors stay open and they want to support us.

"We need more of that, because people don't think of going to a travel agent for a New Zealand-based holiday. Our product team has been working hard with suppliers and putting together amazing packages."

She says there's never been a better time to see our own country.

"It's a one-stop shop and we've got some really sharp deals."

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It comes down to product knowledge and the ability to explore all the options, saving the client a lot of time and frustration. It includes what retailers would call "after-sales service".

"It's the local person in the local store who can fix it. It's my cellphone number you ring at 8pm if you're in a pickle. It doesn't go to a call centre. People who don't normally book with an agent don't understand the value we bring."

Carla has been in the travel business since 2003. House of Travel Wanganui comprises five staff.

"It's about supporting a local business, helping a local mum keep the doors open and ensure that we are here for the long haul. House of Travel Wanganui has just had its 31st birthday, and it's locally owned."

Profits don't go to an offshore corporate, they stay in the community.

"Travel agents offer a lot of value and we really are better together. It might sound cliched but it's so true. With your ideas, our experience and our buying and negotiating power with suppliers, you'll always come out with the best offer."