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Beginner questions about booking direct vs agent

Boston...
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Beginner questions about booking direct vs agent
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Hello!

Looking at booking Origin / Theory for early next year. I'm wondering if there's any advantage to finding an agent who would book this (and arrange necessary pre/post hotel, any transfers, entry cards, etc) for us, vs booking just direct?

I am normally a DIY travel planner but after a recent trip to the south pacific where I used an agent for the entire trip I have been won over by the ease of having an agent arrange the details. In the Galapagos is it better to use an agent? Shoudl I use someone in my country of origin or one based in Ecuador? In these times of covid cancellations I"m not sure if it's better to use one over the other.

Thanks so much!

8 replies to this topic
Tucson, Arizona
Destination Expert
for Quito, Ecuador
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109 reviews
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1. Re: Beginner questions about booking direct vs agent
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I'm normally a DIY traveler as well, but have used specialists to book trips to South Africa, Iran, Egypt, Botswana, the Solomon Islands, and Galapagos. These places all have sometimes "whimsical" logistics that I'd prefer to leave to a specialist (not a generic travel agent). You've discovered how easy they make things, yourself. I generally had them do the transportation, transfers, and hotels, and any specialized book-ahead things like cruises. It's nice to have some backup when things go awry.

Boston...
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Thank you!

Would the prevailing advice be to book as small a ship as you can afford? When I did Antarctica that was generally the rule, i think especially in times of covid the less potential exposure the better as well.

I see now that the Covd entry rules are changing and vaccination is no longer a requirement, just the PCR test. Has there been any indication that individual ships will require vaccination for passengers? personally that would make me feel better...

Tucson, Arizona
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for Quito, Ecuador
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109 reviews
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3. Re: Beginner questions about booking direct vs agent
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The size of the boat is up to you. I prefer small because I'm not the sort of person who likes to be around a crowd of jolly extroverts--especially if they continue yammering away on the excursions. The nice thing about small, if it's a good boat (not budget), is that they can anchor closer in at night so you're the first ones on the island in the morning.

According to DE Heather, boats are allowed to set their own parameters about vaccinations. See the related thread on this forum.

Boston...
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Thanks re: the vax question. I realized I had duplicated that question in another thread, and it was answered. Thanks for taking the time to respond! In an ideal world I'd have a boat all to myself and my partner, but alas we haven't won the lottery yet so we will need to share ;)

Have there been any reports of breakouts of covid amongst tourists on the boats?

Washington, DC
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5. Re: Beginner questions about booking direct vs agent
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i am not sure if there are any smaller boat than 16 pax. but yes i do recommend that over bigger ones because fewer people = more efficient zodiac landing = less chance of tardiness or incompatibilities in travel habits. in any case it's always 1 guide : 16 pax max ratio so bigger boats will have more guides on board. but i also think it depends on travel style and preferences. bigger boats come with more amenities. some boats tend to be more family friendly or senior friendly, either in terms of activities offered, or just better excursion timing. for example, it is hardpress to keep waking up kids at 5:45 am and expect them to be ready for excursions day after day. these passengers wouldnt want to be on a boat that do landing at 6:30 am, whether big or small. at the same time, if you are young and adventurous and raring to go, then the 6:30 am boat is probably the one you want so that you can secure the golden solitude hour.

yes, each boat can have their own rule re: vaccination. i did hear murmurs on that as a mandate when i visited recently. however, to my understanding, there's not yet a consistent blanket rule for most cruises, mainly because boat operators cannot afford to be picky about this at this point since tourism is still slow. so what i am trying to say is boat operators will still choose to sell another open cabin at the last minute over a strict vaccination mandate. but once things picked up, several things can happen - a strict mandate for vaccination, or at the very least, separate zodiacs for vac vs non-vac (although how much this makes a difference is another matter for debate)

book with travel agent, rather than direct. several reasons for that - better pricing, better advocacy when things go wrong, more options beyond sister boat when original cruise gets cancelled, etc.

Washington, DC
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it's unlikely to determine if there is breakout or not, since there is no regular covid testing conducted while on board. no daily temp check either if that's what you are looking for.

smaller boats mean fewer passengers so lower likelihood of encountering an infected person on board. but i would say the concern for cruise ship being a petri dish for covid is on a completely different spectrum and scale for galapagos cruises vs the other standard cruises out there. it tends to attract a different demographics, and is definitely not a go-go party boat.

Ottawa, Canada
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for Galapagos Islands
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7. Re: Beginner questions about booking direct vs agent
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Dear 2020,

I run a Galapagos travel company (since 1999) and to be perfectly honest, if you're set on a specific ship and if that ship has a good support staff (Origin/Theory is good), you might just as well book with them directly. For those not sure what ship might be best suited to them (MRC above gives good illustrations on how some ships will not be good for everyone) an experienced / knowledgeable Galapagos travel company could help you go through different options and discuss the various pros and cons, as they are not beholden to any particular ship. Conversely, if you work with a travel company that doesn't specialize in Galapagos, they will not have the depth of knowledge / familiarity with all the ships, nor of the latest concerns / issues going on in the islands / mainland to provide much value added I should think.

Some ships may not have a very good support staff - and may not be responsive to your questions, or not very good at dealing with anything beyond booking the ship and your domestic flight. Some ships are operated under the banner of big international cruise companies that operate all over the world (e.g. Celebrity, Silversea, G-Adventures) and typically, their revolving door sales people in Miami or Toronto have no clue about anything beyond getting you booked onto their ship. But Origin / Theory folks are top notch and can give you the red-carpet treatment and should be able to cater to your every need, both in Galapagos and on the mainland.

The recommendation by MRC to book with an agent over the ship for i) better pricing and ii) better advocacy is not entirely correct. It depends on the agent. Some agents will undercut the ship's own published prices , yes, but they typically do so against the expressed request by the ship owners, in order to make the sale. These are almost exclusively based in Ecuador. As for better advocacy, that's a hit and miss affair - again, depending the agent. Some you will find very difficult to reach once the sale is made, and others will be there for you night and day to address any problems even after you've returned home (I once was able to get a guest out of a Galapagos prison... long story). You can hazard a guess as to which category those agents that undercut the ship's published prices tend to fall (not all -- but an important proportion).

Travel agencies need to operate under the laws / regulations of their jurisdictions. In the UK, all travel agencies must follow strict financial management protocols, and if you book through a UK agency, you will have better guarantees that your money will be well-managed and even recoverable in case of bankruptcies of either the agency or the ship company, for example. The same sort of regulations are in place for agencies in California, British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec (along with a few other USA states). Agencies in Ecuador are not regulated in that way. Just something to consider.

The smallest ship carries 8 passengers (Merak) but it's just a small dank motorized sailboat and not professionally operated - usually chartered by scientists who have crumbs for their research budgets. There are 1-2 14 passenger ships and most carry 16 or 20 passengers. There are only a handful of 48-100 passenger ships (maybe 5-6?). The 20 passenger ships will have 2 naturalist guides and some high end 16 passenger ships will have 2 naturalist guides, giving you the lowest guide/guest ratio in the islands (1:8).

I am currently surveying ship owners on their vaccination policies for guests and staff. I hope to have some results by tomorrow.

So, long story short: If you are set on the Origin/Theory, they by all means book with them directly. If you're wanting to look at "what's out there" and would like expert advice on options, then approach an experienced agent.

Warmest regards,

Heather Blenkiron

Boston...
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8. Re: Beginner questions about booking direct vs agent
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thank you Heather!

TO be honest I'm not 100% settled on a boat but definitely know i want something Luxury or the level below it (first class maybe?) low number of passengers, etc. The idea of someone to handle all the details such as transfers, hotel pre-post, etc appeals for sure.

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