Pól Ó Conghaile: Death of the holiday rep has been greatly exaggerated
New technology and old-school human expertise mean holiday reps can provide a better service than ever
Travelling to Ravello? Get there before 9am, and hit Villa Cimbrone first... you'll have its terraced gardens to yourself.
A good restaurant in Sorrento?
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L'Antica Trattoria is one of Catherine Fulvio's favourites.
The Path of the Gods?
Skip Sundays. There's a midweek bus from Amalfi to Bomerano that will have you walking by 8.05am.
As a travel writer looking to squeeze the most out of my time, insider tips like those I got in Italy last weekend are priceless. Googling, guidebooks, Twitter, tourist boards - all go into the research mix. But these particular tips came from another source... holiday reps.
Holiday reps? The term brings images of 18-30-somethings with clipboards and cocktails to mind. In an age of online booking, dynamic packaging and Thomas Cook's collapse, they may even sound like a relic.
But my adventures on the Amalfi Coast told a different story.
I travelled with Topflight, an Irish tour operator that provides both traditional reps to help with transfers, orientations and so on, and 'overseas concierges' - on-the-ground experts on hand to help customers of its tailormade trips, which don't involve formal transfers. With a rental car to explore at my own pace, I was one of the latter.
En route to Sorrento, resort manager Lindsey Noble touched base. She WhatsApped to warn of a traffic jam near Sant'Agnello. Later, she tipped a restaurant that could send a free car to collect me from the hotel.
In Amalfi, another resort manager, Paola Cioffi, pinged over parking tips. She WhatsApped bus timetables and, as we chatted, helped swing me on that early trip to Ravello.
Saving time and gaining local intel are critical to me, and I'm happy to pay guides and fixers to do both. I was a guest of Topflight on this trip - obviously, it's not alone in employing reps, and holidays combining guided elements with free time to explore, by the likes of Travel Department and Riviera Travel, are increasingly popular. But I hadn't intended to use its rep service, nor appreciated just how that service has evolved.
The marriage of mobile tech and good old human know-how (Paola is Italian; Lindsey has lived there for 39 years) really clicked.
The holiday industry is in turbulent times, but Irish travel agents turned over €1.1bn last year, according to the ITAA. The best realise that expertise, consumer protection and human reassurance matter, especially when it comes to big trips and complicated itineraries.
Not all reps are reliable, of course (we've all seen shenanigans in ski and sun resorts). But when you get a real insider who loves their job, that's a good package deal.
Read more:Pól Ó Conghaile: Is Center Parcs over-priced, or value for money?