Here’s the 2010 Playing Field

What will be the theme to this year? George Dooley, author of this issue’s cover story, “Your 2010 Survival Guide,” summed it up best: This is the year of recovery for the travel industry.

It’s important to note, however, that this “recovery” should not be one that’s taken on the sidelines, waiting to regain lost energy from an illness. Instead, we have to attack the marketplace with a clear vision that shows that we know the playing field.

And we do know the playing field. The economy isn’t in freefall anymore and we’re not just looking at each other and shrugging in sheer wonder at the horror of it all, as we did so many times in 2009.

Here’s what else we know:

1. Consumers will still not want to spend a lot but they won’t be as paranoid as they were last year. They can probably be seduced into traveling by the right person. That means you need to be seductive. Polish your Selling 101 skills and practice in front of the mirror and look good while you’re doing it. Sell them like you’ve never sold before.

2. The consumer will still want deals, and deals will still be around. However, it’s not going to be the orgy it was in 2009. We won’t likely see offers where luxury hotels throw in airport transfers, meals, spa treatments, free nights and resort credits. We may see some of that but it will be selectively offered, closer to travel dates. Tell your clients not to count on giveaways and that they should just plan the trip they really want to make.

3. Experience will reign over price. Anyone can get from point A to point B on their own and book a hotel. As a travel expert, you need to fill your clients’ days with insider experiences, which needn’t be expensive. With some assistance from the local tourist board of the destination you’re sending your client to, help them live like locals.

4. You must know your stuff. There will be 13 new ships launched this year. Fourteen were launched last year. Do you know what makes them different from each other? What’s new on the hotel front? Read, read, read. It’s all out there.

5. Know the behavior of your demographic profiles. Younger people going on a Mediterranean cruise don’t want to wake up early in the morning for a land tour. Are you still equipped to plan an enriching itinerary? Find family members or friends who are the same demographic as your clients and take them on a virtual test-drive of your itineraries. You’ll implement practical decisions that will help you come off brilliantly.

6. Online travel agency fatigue is at its peak. More and more people have taken awkward trips because they booked online without the help of a trusted advisor. Be cheeky and send out a marketing message to your database asking if they’ve been burned by an OTA. If you get a response, show them how you can add value to their next vacation.

7. Be aware of peak travel dates. Orbitz just reported that Thanksgiving isn’t its peak time, Christmas is. July 4th is second, followed by Thanksgiving. The third week of June and the first week of August round out the five most traveled times of the year. I’ve heard that the Martin Luther King holiday weekend works great for girlfriend getaways. Plan accordingly.

8. Know the trends. Altour reports that all-inclusives are being preferred over FIT travel these days, most likely because of the value factor. Europe has seen a resurgence in popularity, but South America is nipping at is heels.

9. Work the fear factor. There are still some individuals who didn’t travel in 2009, despite the amazing offers. They are afraid to leave home because they’re superstitious that economic misfortune will befall them. Send them to a nice resort in Florida or California. What’s more innocuous than taking a relaxing domestic vacation?

10. Work on your corporate clients. If your best business customers didn’t hold a meeting in 2009, it’s time for them to convene in a decent property that will service all their meeting needs. Skype and Go To Meeting are excellent value alternatives but meeting face to face is priceless.