Vinal Desai Burbeck is often asked if there is still a place for travel agents in an age when anybody can book a hotel or a flight on the internet. Her answer is an emphatic "yes."
Burbeck caught the travel bug about eight years ago and in 2015 she started her own Ann Arbor-based boutique travel agency, Wanderlark. She saw the business as a way to share with others her love of wandering off the beaten path. Burbeck didn't travel much as a child but, as an undergrad at the University of Michigan, she leapt at the chance to study literature abroad in London.
"It changed my life and opened my eyes to all the possibilities and the joy of travel," she says.
She knew she wanted to see more of the world but wasn't able to do that until around 2010 while she worked for Google, traveling both within the U.S. and also to Ireland as part of her job.
Burbeck considers herself a "Type A planner" and began using her skills and love for travel to create itineraries for family and friends. Realizing how excited she got about discussing travel with others, she decided she might be able to make a career from it. After a few years of planning, she launched Wanderlark, making it her full-time job.
Burbeck says travelers who don't mind a one-size-fits-all approach to travel may be happy going to chain restaurants and seeing the tourist attractions everybody else visits. However, the clients who seek her out want a customized travel plan filled with mom-and-pop restaurants and other hidden gems.
"I'm like a hunting dog or a truffle pig, seeking out the really good stuff that's hard to find," Burbeck says. "The average person doesn't have the time, energy, or expertise to find those better experiences themselves, and I do all of that legwork for them."
Her clients receive a complete and customized itinerary full of experiences that are tailored to their interests, but also includes some flexibility so they don't feel they have to frantically rush from place to place, she says.
Burbeck says she likes to use the term "consultant" rather than "travel agent," because agents work on commission and are often focused on up-selling rather than creating a unique experience for a client.
"I want to be client-centric, whether somebody's budget (for travel planning) is $100 or $10,000 or more," she says. "At the end of the day, I want to make sure they have the best possible experience that will keep them traveling. I feel like you can't put a price tag on that."
Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township. You may reach her at email@example.com.
Photo courtesy of Vinal Desai Burbeck.