Paul, I did not want to deviate from the intent of Leyden's original post... but your comment was a generalized - and frankly, inaccurate - statement regarding using a TA. Perhaps if you had started your original response with, "Based on MY experience with travel agents, the problem with SOME travel agents is..." Maybe the circumstances of your experience occur in your area, although I'd be surprised if all local TA's there are cut of the same ilk.
It's true, TA's don't work with ALL accommodations, but there are hundreds of thousands of properties listed n the GDS - the system most agents used to book accommodations worldwide. And yes, I do have relationships with some properties that have only 4-6 rooms! There are times when a TA can get some incredible savings - be it Air, Hotel, car rentals, a package tour, etc.
Many travel advisors do charge fees - especially if properties are not commissionable. The good ones are worth their fee. (I guess I was surprised by your initial comment: "The problem with travel agents is that they need some way to be paid for their effort." Wouldn't you want to be paid for providing a service?). And again, sometimes the fee they charge - like the last-minute trip to Paris I did recently - is far offset by the savings they find for the traveler.
Many travel advisors do work on a consultant basis. For example, high-end travel advisors often work on an annual retainer - their services are that valued. I have a few friends who do this and their depth of knowledge, connections, networking, and client base is simply amazing. Like many professions these days, many TA's are quite specialized. Some may handle only a Business, Leisure, Meeting, Incentive, Air, Hotel, or Cruise travel experience.
Many people may see a travel agent as a person sitting in a cubicle who has never been outside their hometown. Many OTAs - especially with the post-Covid increase in travel - face this predicament. Yet, as a TRAVEL ADVISOR, we do - often at our own expense - travel to inspect properties, tours, activities, etc. In my company, although I am an independent affiliate, we are interconnected with 150+ travel advisors and talk/message DAILY about a property, a tour experience, and so on. And we're networked with DMCs and onsites all around the world. I'm often on the phone/email/WhatsApp/Slack with Vietnam, Italy, Thailand, and the USA, discussing the best options for my clients.
Although I work independently, I am on-call 24/7 - so my clients do get that "24- hour helpline" service. Because I've lived in and traveled to a few places, I've actually WALKED people back to their hotel when they got lost and called me, from say, the middle of Rome. I live in Europe and all my clients are Americans. For those living on the West Coast, that's a 9-hour time difference. I have four clients who live in Hawaii (that's 12 hours!). We have people traveling from China to Florida... so yes, we're ALWAYS on call.
It's obvious that you don't value what a travel advisor could provide you - and that's okay. TA's aren't for everyone - or EVERY trip. But to paint all TA's with such a broad brush is inappropriate. There are so many factors in today's world to consider when deciding whether to use a TA (and COVID has certainly become one of them). For an inexperienced traveler, the challenge of booking a trip may be overwhelming. The right TA could be a huge asset and sometimes it's good to have support.
Because I live in Europe, I get many "first-time-to-Europe" travelers. Thus, almost daily, I am reminded of how challenging international travel may be for some folks. Online forums, the internet, the library, or talking to friends can all be helpful. But sometimes, some folks just need more and that ENABLES them to travel that first time. A good TA can fill that need. And there are many GREAT TA's out there - you just have to go find one!!!