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How to Remain on Course in Turbulent Times

February 17, 2008 By: Travel Agent Central Contributor, Ruthanne Terrero Travel Agent

I remember the first time I drove in Manhattan, I was so terrified by the number of yellow cabs and unmarked white vans darting in and out of traffic I was sure I was going to self-destruct even though I was a perfectly good driver in other settings. At the time, my husband advised me to simply stay in my lane and to look straight ahead. It was all right to be aware of what was going on around me, he said, but it shouldn't be a distraction from my moving ahead to my destination.

That same advice could apply to the business owner who is trying to maintain a strategy in an economic environment that is simply unpredictable. One day we're in a recession, the next day we're not. On other days, things looks positively rosy, retails sales are up, although they were up because consumers were spending all their money on gasoline. But at least they weren't down, or down as much as the pundits thought they would be. A major technology company announces record earnings, but wait, those earnings weren't as high as Wall Street anticipated, so the stock market goes tumbling.

Hello! How are we supposed to remain calm when good news isn't good anymore because it isn't good enough? It seems as if everything is open for interpretation these days, everything, that is, except for how you should run your business.

By that I mean, unless your particular client base is taking an obvious economic tumble, there's no need for you to change course. Continue to deliver a strong level of service and be sure to maintain the practice of mining your client base for new marketing ideas. It's wise to develop contingency plans, but that doesn't mean that you need to throw away everything you have learned over the years and start all over.

For example, if you are concerned that your clients may be spending less on their European vacation this year, be pre-emptive and suggest they travel in the shoulder season. Do it before they tell you they're cancelling their annual travel plans. By being proactive, you're surprising them with problem-solving remedies; they will love you for it. Along those same lines, is this the time to suggest a trip to South America to them? They may be delighted to consider Buenos Aires, where their dollar can buy a good steak, excellent red wine, a luxury hotel suite and a tango lesson without breaking the bank. If you feel that's an option they may enjoy, be sure to do your homework on the destination. If they're trying something new, they'll want to be sure you know your stuff before you send them to another continent.

Has a luxury resort or a new destination spa opened within a few hours driving range from your area? If so, forge a relationship with management and devise a plan to those clients there whom you suspect may not want to take that second vacation this year. By helping your customers plot out a trip that doesn't involve paying for flights, you're cushioning your business with income you may have otherwise lost.

Perhaps you're in one of those regions where housing foreclosures are on the increase. There's not much you can do about that problem and so you'll need to redirect your marketing efforts to other neighborhoods. If this is the case, you'll need to be sure that your online presence is a strong one, since you'll need to start attracting clients from a wider geographical region. Take a look at other agencies' websites. Do they have a blog?

Are they actively engaging their audience with the look and interactive capabilities on their site while yours is a virtually static URL advertising travel products at rock-bottom pricing?

If so, it's time to get busy. Hire a professional to help you out, and forego the temptation to get free web services from your nephew, unless he's become a vice president at Google the last time you looked. Another hint: Get rid of those $299 package deals and determine what your niche truly is. It can't be selling what's already widely available on the Internet.

Do you have a series of hotels where you know the general managers intimately? Do you work extremely well with three or four suppliers? If so, contact them and ask how you can deepen your relationship with them. Perhaps they have co-op dollars they can toss your way to help you sell their product. If you belong to a consortium, give it a call to find out if they have anyone on staff with whom you can consult to help you with your business plan. If they don't, consider changing to one that does. These are competitive times and the travel agency groups out there have gotten extremely savvy about putting their focus on the customer, which in this case, is the travel agent.

Remember, as you're navigating this terrain, stay in your lane. Even though it feels as if an uninsured Mack truck is going to come swerving over from the left and pummel you in your ever-efficient Toyota Celica, there's no need to have fear if you are practicing precautionary driving techniques and keeping your eye on the vehicle in front of you. Be wise, breathe deeply and soon you'll be changing lanes, but only to pass that slower moving car in front of you!

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