By Emily G. Peters
Travel agents are sometimes regarded as a relic of the past, lumped in with rotary phones or watching TV shows on an actual television. Yet Protravel International is proving the opposite: travel agents are not only alive, they’re thriving.
The sentiment is embodied in Gloria Lopez, manager of Protravel International’s Sierra Madre branch. Once based in Pasadena, Protravel moved to Sierra Madre in 2017 when it acquired Madre Hills Travel as part of their expanding services. Lopez joined the team about 17 years ago, but had been working in travel long before that.
“I married an airline employee and we went to Europe for our honeymoon. It was then that I began to think about helping others travel,” shared Lopez, who started helping out at a local travel agency in 1975. She soon ventured into business ownership when she launched her own travel agency, but industry changes compelled her to join the Protravel team in 2001.
“The 1990s were a downer for individually owned travel agencies because airlines stopped paying commissions on airline tickets,” she explained. And it wasn’t just airline commissions that changed—the advent of online booking also made it tough for some agencies to survive. While Lopez knew she’d have to adapt to stay relevant, one major event threw that relevance in the spotlight.
“When Sept. 11 happened, we were able to assist many clients on that day, even those who weren’t our clients. They realized how important it was to be able to reach a real live person with their needs,” said Lopez. “It’s one thing to search the internet for the least expensive coast-to-coast fare, but another thing when there’s special requests, land arrangements and other complexities that cannot be done using the internet.”
Part of Protravel’s success is rooted in their ability to handle these complexities.
“My team specializes in upscale leisure, corporate and entertainment travel. We all have a knowledge in a particular field or region—so whatever the client’s question, we have the answer,” said Lopez. As for the internet, she’s got some views on its power, too.
“One of the biggest misconceptions is that you can save money if you book online,” she said. “What happens is that at the onset the price may be less, but then you realize that your five-star hotel has just been confirmed for the least desirable room, or that the cruise cabin you booked is right next to the ship’s engine. And because you booked online, there’s no one to complain to.” Using a live expert is different.
“Many times we can offer upgrades at hotels, food and beverage credits and on-board credits on cruises,” she said. “We work with you from the beginning to make sure you’re getting the best value for your hard-earned dollar—no surprises.”
Value, ultimately, is the driving force behind this return to using professional travel agents. As online options increase and scams become harder to identify, travel professionals help cut through the clutter.
“I personally find it very gratifying when a client comes in with a budget feeling like they’ll have to sacrifice their dream vacation,” said Lopez. “But I’m able to make that dream come true.”
Protravel International is located at 55 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Suite 108 in Sierra Madre. For more information, contact Protravel International at protravelinc.com | (626) 796-4448 | firstname.lastname@example.org and follow along on Instagram @protravelinternational and Facebook @protravelsierramadre.