What About Identity Theft?

Every day there is a news story about identity theft. The Department of Veterans Affairs recently lost information on millions of Americans; Hotels.com lost data on thousands. Now, your travel agent is asking you for all sorts of information. Are you setting yourself up to have your identity stolen? Possibly.

But probably not. Let me tell you why.

When you work with a travel agent — whether face to face or mouse to mouse — you are looking to purchase more than just travel. Not just a trip, not just a cruise, not just a flight — but an experience. And with the right agent, it will be an experience that will in some way enrich your life.

Here’s an example. Three weeks ago I was in Rome, where I witnessed a spectacular fireworks display and celebration as the Swiss Guards marched into the Vatican to celebrate the 500th anniversary of their protection of the Holy See. I could have booked any old hotel, but my travel agent, Lynda, who works in my office and knows me very well, booked me a room with a patio overlooking St. Peter’s Square. She didn’t just book a room, she booked my experience. See the difference?

If Lynda did not know me so well, I would have missed an experience that will be with my daughter, Elizabeth, and me forever. But Lynda is a great travel agent, so she knows me inside and out. In fact, she often knows which trip I’ll be taking before I do. How? Because she’s proactive. She keeps her eye out for travel opportunities that she knows will excite and interest me. And the surprising thing is, I am only one of a thousand clients she serves each year.

It is all about “Customer Relationship Management” (CRM), and it is not evil. It’s how service providers operate. Ever wonder how the Domino’s Pizza guy knows you like large pepperoni pizzas? How the supermarket miraculously spits out coupons that you can actually use? It is all about knowing your customers and keeping track of their interests, preferences and habits.

Travel agents are experts at CRM. In the old days, your information was kept in your agent’s head or maybe in his Rolodex. Today, it is likely to be kept on the agency’s computers. (Our office uses a program called ClientBase, a CRM program developed specifically for travel agents.) With each contact, your agent should be gathering a little more information from you to serve you better down the road.

Little things mean a lot when it comes to creating your experience. Are you prone to seasickness? Maybe a cruise is not for you. Does your family have roots in Greece? Does a particular artist or composer really move you? How old are you? What about your kids? Shuffleboard or windsurfing? Hot dogs or chateaubriand? With this information, your agent can present an experience that will interest you — and leave the others in the trashcan.

A good agent will also keep track of all the tedious stuff you might forget, as well as the stuff you have no desire to monitor. Before switching to our agency, Erin and Gary had a wonderful trip to Paris all lined up and ready to go. But their dream trip got derailed at the Air France check-in counter, where Gary discovered his passport had expired. With a good agent, this would never have happened. A good agent keeps track of your passport – and your visa requirements, deposit dates, insurance coverage, shots, conversion rates, credit card expiration dates and countless other travel details – so you don’t have to. When something needs attention, you’ll receive a reminder — before it ruins your experience.

So, when you have a good relationship with a travel agent, don’t be afraid to give up the 411 about yourself.

But here comes the word of caution: While most agents are honest and most agencies have security measures in place, there is always a chance that your data might be accidentally compromised. So be prudent, especially with Social Security, passport and credit card information. Your Social Security number should never be asked for unless your agent is filling out some government forms for you. And, if you don’t feel comfortable leaving your credit card information on file, don’t do it; it just means the agent will have to ask for it each time you make a purchase. That’s a small price to pay for your peace of mind.

Your travel agent already has an identity, and he probably doesn’t want yours. So, choose your travel agent with care, then let him ask questions — and be honest when you answer them. After all, it’s your experience that counts.

So, what is the recipe for a fantastic travel experience? Take a dose of caution, add a cup of trust and allow your agent to go to work for you!

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