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The Upside of the Downturn

July 1, 2010 By: Ruthanne Terrero Travel Agent


Ruthanne Terrero, with Michelle Morgan, president of Signature Travel Network, and Gregg Michel, president of Crystal Cruises, at the cruise line’s Annual Sales Gala, aboard the Crystal Symphony

Shari Chang, senior vice president of sales, marketing and revenue management for Aston Hotels & Resorts, made a good point during our Hawaii roundtable when she said, “We have to be careful comparing this year [with] a really horrible 2009, so even if there is a gain, it is not great. Occupancy is going up but the lower ADR is really impacting.”

Her comments made me wonder if most travel agents out there are comparing their business this year to 2009’s, and if so, why? If you’ve gauged your business barometer to just merely beat last year’s numbers, you may be setting yourself back a few years. And even though you may be doing a similar volume of business, you may not be making as much.

So how do you enhance your bottom line in a year that is okay, but not great? In 2010, it all comes down to the basics and the ability to do some quick thinking. During our Hawaii roundtable, Wendy Goodenow from HNL Travel said that in April, her clients slowed down on booking travel further out and instead showed an interest in traveling closer in, within the next month or so. This means Goodenow must hustle to secure reservations in good European hotels, but I have no doubt she’s got good relationships with suppliers that will help her with this challenge. That’s Travel 101—have strong ties with those with whom you do business.

I’ve just returned from Crystal Cruises’ Annual Sales Gala, at which it rewards its top-selling travel agents. Bill Smith, executive vice president of sales and marketing for the line, had a strong message for the agents in attendance. “Don’t let this recession go to waste,” he said. “A lot of you have changed the way you do business. Learn what it has taken to make yourselves successful.”

Sticking to that mantra is even more important when you realize that, for many, 2010 started out strong, only to slow down by the time April rolled around. Of course, that was when the volcanic activity in Europe had a huge impact on travel, but the economy also seemed to be slowing again. Smith said that Crystal in June surveyed its travel agent customers who reported that their clients’ top reasons for reluctance to book a cruise were, in order of most concern: economic uneasiness, price, volcanic ash and fear of flight cancellations and airline strikes. “There is chaos in the marketplace,” Smith said, pointing out the fluctuating stock market as a major reason for the emotional chaos. “When the market is up, we know we’ll have a good booking day; when it goes down, it’s time to close the door.”

Despite all this, Smith said luxury travelers do have money to spend. It’s their mindset that is holding them back. It seems the wealthy (65 percent, according to Smith) think salespeople don’t know the specific value of what they’re selling. In fact, when it comes to products, the wealthy think they know more than you do. Yikes! That’s some obstacle for you to overcome. How do you politely let your customers know they aren’t smarter than you, that you, in fact, are the expert? The answer is to be able to effectively communicate the value of what you are selling.

To recap: The goal for 2010 should be to forget about 2009 and to aspire to prior years for revenue goals, and to keep in mind basic selling techniques that allow you to meet a client’s needs and communicate them instantly and effectively. That’s no easy task but I have no doubt you’re up to it.

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