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Ann West and Elizabeth Dingess, travel agents extraordinare’

With the 2nd Annual Belle Meade Vacations Travel Show slated for this Thursday evening at Cheekwood, I knew I had to find out how the travel agent business was doing in this day of endless online travel sites and discount bookings. I wondered, “How are Travel Agents surviving?”

For over five years I have hiked with two of the most experienced travel agents in town, Ann West and Elizabeth Dingess of Belle Meade Vacations. With that being said (full disclosure here), I am NOT their best customer.  With a couple of wins under my travel belt and probably as many flops, I thought it might be interesting to look at the travel agency business in light of the recession, the internet and our ever-changing virtual world.

I posed this question directly to Ann and Elizabeth, “Girls, is your business doing OK?”  They both smiled and replied, “Our business is good and in the past six months, REALLY GOOD.”

Here’s is what Ann and Elizabeth have to say….

Booking travel is tricky, especially internationally.  There are so many details (like forgetting to renew your passport) where a misstep can ABSOLUTELY ruin your trip.  Having a complete itinerary with all the i’s dotted and the t’s crossed, is worth its weight in gold.  For your agent, the itinerary is the GPS of travel; they know where you are, if (and when) something messes up.  Both Ann and Elizabeth have more than one horror story of missed planes, forgotten documents and unforeseen circumstances.  When you’re in a pickle, your travel agent is there 24/7.  Based on 30 years of relationships, these two can pull you out of a jam QUICKLY.

Some trips simply necessitate a Travel Agent:

  1. Anything exotic like Africa, China or India
  2. Most cruises due to the complicated lingo and upgrades
  3. All important occasions like anniversaries, honeymoons and birthdays
  4. And pretty much (now that I know) EVERYTHING IN BETWEEN.

Belle Meade Vacation’s affiliation with Virtuoso allows them to pass on upgrades and freebies to you. Access to Virtuoso perks is like having access to the American Express Platinum Club — exclusive benefits and great perks.

Let’s face it, traveling is about the ADVENTURE, not about the HASSLE.

This Thursday Belle Meade Vacations invites you to their 2nd Annual Travel Show.  Most of the exclusive travel companies will be there to answer questions and give advice.  If you’re like most seasoned travelers, you have some idea where you want to go, you just want to know the best way to go.  I may just go to simply get ideas and start planning.  I can’t imagine something more fun.

Safari in Africa catch your attention?

Me, too.  Mark Nolting, president of the Africa Adventure Company will be there.  His customized expeditions are first class with private guides and tours.  You can rough it by sleeping in a tent or stay in one of the gorgeous lodges.  I hope you know that “roughing” it is a relative term with Mark’s company.  Let’s face it, a wrong turn in the bush is not a good idea.

Sleep under the stars in your African tent.

Elephant crossing

What:   Belle Meade Vacation Travel Show

Where:  Cheekwood with valet parking at the Botanic Hall

When:  Thursday, January 21st from 5PM – 7PM

Who: Some of the companies attending will be Four Seasons Hotel and Resort, Lindbland Expeditions, Orient-Express, Abercrombie and Kent, Canyon Ranch, The Africa Adventure Co., St. Regis Hotels and many more.

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