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Most travel insiders are aware that travel and tourism are well on their way to becoming the world's largest industries by the turn of the century. The enormous growth has been a catalyst for many changes in the travel industry: eco-tourism, adventure travel, and a general refinement of traveler's tastes. The everyday client has become far more knowledgeable about where to go, how to get there, and particularly, where to stay when they arrive.

People have acquired a much stronger desire to more fully "discover" their destinations. One result of this knowledgeable, discriminating traveler is that the field of vacation villa and apartment rentals has experienced tremendous growth of late.

There are a number of reasons why the vacation villa rental option is advantageous to both the agent and the traveler. First and foremost, villa and apartment rentals actually make an agent's job easier, and often allow them higher commissions. Rather than searching for hotels and phoning and faxing abroad or conquering any language barriers, the villa rental industry allows for "one-stop shopping." There are a number of reputable U.S. companies who can be contacted by any travel agent.

All the agent must do is find out the particulars: where/when the client is traveling, the number of people, the length of stay, and any special requests (i.e. city center, countryside, view, washer/dryer, household staff, balcony, patio, yard, swimming pool, approximate budget) and the rental agency will do all the research and legwork. Any reputable agency will supply the agent with photographs, prices, and additional particulars (some, such as European Escapes, LLC, provide extras including maps, restaurant referrals, travel guides, travel insurance, and more) which can then be shown to the client.

From the eyes of the client, the travel agent will have appeared to compiled the entire package. The rental agency will negotiate the payment (handling any necessary currency conversion) and reserve the property, at which point an invoice and reservation voucher (including local contacts and keyholders) are presented and the clients are on their way to their new home abroad. All this for just picking up the phone -- and all reputable firms have toll-free lines and offer a minimum of 10% commission.

There are many villa rental agencies that advertise directly to the consumers, which, besides cutting out the travel agent entirely, may leave consumers unaware and unprotected regarding their rights. The best option is to search for an agency listed in the Specialty Travel Index or the Official Tour Directory -- the listings in the villa and apartment rental sections should clearly state whether they are commissionable to the agent and what areas/types of rentals they specialize in. In this way, the agent can be assured that they're dealing with an established firm that will leave them with the benefits of cancellation insurance and reputable business practices.

It's clear that using a villa rental agency can not only greatly simplify the travel agent's job, but also offer them enhanced client services. Many agencies specialize in certain geographical areas and with their supplier connections are able to offer properties that would otherwise be unavailable to the agent. The villa rental option offers the agent an opportunity to make increased commissions while providing added services for their clients. As for traveler advantages, there are a number of reasons why more people than ever before are interested apartment and villa rentals. Today's traveler tends to want to gain some real first-hand knowledge of where they're visiting. As hotel rooms around the world grow more uniform, homes remain unique. Rather than staying in a sterile hotel room, travelers can inhabit a home and the landscape as well, thereby gaining a real understanding of how the locals live. Instead of riding down a hotel elevator packed with other tourists, the villa renter moves into a neighborhood, unpacks in a home, strolls down streets with the locals, and is able to shop and eat where they do. There is a certain special perspective gleaned from travel when one has the opportunity to achieve "resident status" and become an integral part of where they are visiting. In renting a home, the traveler becomes a part of their destination; they get to see a more real side of where they've chosen to visit. More often than not, they return home feeling like much more than a visitor -- they get to sweetly savor the feeling of living abroad. And, after all, isn't that the crux of traveling: to see what life is like somewhere else?

Furthermore, there are an increasing number of people who have grown environmentally concerned. Anyone interested in eco-tourism does not typically wish to contribute to the blight of tourist hotels in a beloved location. For anyone concerned about budgets, the economics are unbeatable. Travelers get more for their money when renting a home than they can for a similar hotel investment. The villa rental option also allows clients more opportunity to get exactly what they want -- without causing the agent any added work. Clients are able to dictate their requirements: the type of home they want, the location, type of furnishings they find appealing, whether they want isolation or central location, views or proximity, phone, faxes, swimming pools, laundry, special needs for children, etc.

Like the locations people visit, homes vary. Most villa rental agencies offer a wide range, from simple economical rentals to fully staffed villas, castles, and chateaux. The typical rental period can generally be set up for as short a period as three nights to as long as an entire season. Many even opt to choose a vacation rental in an outlying area nearby several places they wish to visit, establishing a home base and making short excursions. There's no denying that such type of travel has garnered a large and dedicated following, and will continue to do so. In the recent past Conde Nast Traveler, Travel & Leisure, Travel Holiday, and Arthur Frommer have all written positively about the villa rental experience, and interest clearly continues to grow. With all the added benefits, it's easy to see why. Today's travel agent is often expected to be a "renaissance agent," able to answer questions about any travel need in the world. As the service demands on the agent increase, it's always valuable to have more options and allies in the field. When faced with an alternative that makes the agent's job easier and allows them an opportunity to increase commissions and client services, it's natural that the vacation villa rental option should be every bit as appealing to travel agents as it is to clients (and if agents wish to go themselves, many, such as European Escapes, LLC, also offer special travel agent rental discounts).

Next time a client wants to really get to know an area or burdens you with a lengthy list of difficult demands, let someone else help with the work. Pick up the phone and call a villa rental agency. Your clients will be sure to thank you (even if they might have to carry their own bags to their bedroom...think of all they'll save on bellhop tips).

Scott Stavrou is a professional travel writer, a member of the International Food, Wine, & Travel Writers Association, and an experienced worker in the villa & apartment rental industry.

European Escapes, LLC
Toll free: 1-888-EURO-LUX
fax: (415)386-0477