With the advent of the Internet, there are a lot of people who think they don't need to call a travel agent in order to book airline flights.
And while that is true, they are also missing the kind of service agents provide, which may save travelers a few gray hairs as well as dollars.
Rupal Martinez was educated in the travel industry in her native Great Britain, and came to Carson City in 1993 to work at the Discount Travel Shop. She bought the business in 1999, and has since had to adjust to the changes technology has brought to the industry.
"It is a difficult industry because it's constantly fluctuating, but what can I do, it's my passion," Martinez said. "The best thing I love about the travel industry is I get to sell the world. "
Martinez said she is the only full-service storefront travel agency left in Carson City, and books everything from international trips to motorcycle tours. Diversification has been a key to business survival.
"We still do a lot of cruises, a lot of Hawaii, a lot of Mexico," she said. "But at the moment to stay busy I'm throwing stuff out there like senior and group trips to places like Monterey Bay and Nevada City."
A lot of her clients don't use the Internet, so they depend on Martinez to book their trips. She can also help them take advantage of online check-in by printing out their boarding passes for her clients the day before they leave.
"We are helping these people who can't travel much, and helping these people who are intimidated by flying halfway around the world," Martinez said. "Not everybody can just get up and go to China and spend a week. There is an intimidation factor involved, so helping them get over that is important."
While big travel Web sites claim they can save you money on your travel, Martinez said this is not always the case.
"Online agencies are biased and will sell you the flights they want to sell you," she said. "There are often other flights available they will not offer you because they aren't in their contracts."
Martinez said she can sometimes book cheaper flights, but mostly better flights, with the times and the connections you want. Also, the time spent trying to navigate those Web sites can offset any savings.
"If you don't want to mess with the Internet, you can send me an email at the beginning of the day saying this is what you want," Martinez said. "I can book two or three options for you to review and choose what you want."
Dealing with the maze of airline regulations can also be daunting, a task Martinez said she can help with. She can also help deal with problems that crop up in the middle of trips.
"I had a client who went to Hawaii last week, and when he was flying home, they told him his flight was full," she said. "Because the airport was so busy, he couldn't get a hold of anyone to help him. He called me, and I was able to grab the last two seats on the next flight for him. If it wasn't for me, he wouldn't have gotten those seats because someone ahead of him in line would have gotten them."
Group travel is a big part of the business, everything from family reunion cruises to bus trips for senior citizen groups. Martinez has been handling the arrangements for a number of motorcycle clubs for their rides.
"It's wonderful being able to offer that kind of service because some of these road captains, putting together a trip to Sturgis from here, that's 20 days round trip, with maybe 10 or 12 bikes going," Martinez said. "That's a lot of work for them. That drives them nuts."
Martinez has two part-time employees. She said the competition and the current economic downturn have taken a toll, but she still sees opportunity.
"The economy has hit us pretty hard, as it has everybody," she said. "There are a lot of travel deals out there. But I think we are more use in this economy than we were before because everything has been cut back so much, people need more guidance in their travels."
IF YOU GO
Discount Travel Shop
1802 North Carson Street, Suite 244
Owner: Rupal Martinez