It’s Time to Get Your Game On

We’re starting to see some truly tangible signs of the upswing. I recently read that Continental Airlines posted a surprise quarterly profit, saying that travel demand—especially from lucrative business travelers—was improving modestly. When was the last time you heard good news from an airline?

Later, as I was sipping my morning coffee, I had the pleasure of chatting with Jonathan Epstein of Celebrated Experiences, which provides unique itineraries throughout the UK. Epstein told me that on a recent road trip throughout Texas, the news from the high-end travel agencies he visited was all good. “The difference between last January and this January is night and day,” he told me. “There was so much enthusiasm and real optimism.”

Earlier this week, John Lovell, vice president of sales and industry relations for, said he is optimistic about 2010. “What a difference a year makes. Consumers are back,” he said. “People who put their plans on hold for 2009 are now traveling.” Even better, consumer sentiment is improving, he added, noting that memories of the deep angst that struck us all during the third and fourth quarters of 2008 and carried over into 2009, is being forgotten. Even the dramatic losses that 401(k) plans suffered are being recovered.

Shoring up this improving scenario is the fact that the public is very jazzed about the new cruise ships hitting the waters; Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas alone has drummed up tremendous excitement in the consumer press and the unique features on NCL’s new Norwegian Epic are garnering considerable buzz as well. On the luxury front, Silversea’s new Spirit was christened just this month. There will actually be a steady flow of ship new-builds coming out all year, so you won’t have a shortage of new things to discuss with your clients.

River cruising, which enjoyed strong business last year, is going strong in 2010, and appears to be doubling, according to Lovell. “In fact, I wish there were more ships being built in this niche; travel agents have really caught on to selling it,” he said. “It’s a good earning proposition for them.”

If anyone can gauge the market, it’s; with 5,000 agencies and approximately 20,000 agents in its fold, it represents about 25 percent of the overall market. If they’re bullish, you should be, too.

The strong uptick in leisure business means there are a few game changers in play. If your clients are thinking of going to Europe this summer, insist that they book now, because everyone else is. Many consumers who were holding off on traveling last year started January off with the resolution to take their vacations, and they’re making their plans months out.

Be firm with your clients by letting them know that if they wait, they’re not going to get the flights or space in the hotels that they want. Equally important to note is that by waiting, they’re not going to get a great deal.

Internally, it’s time to rev up staff and get them out of any doldrums that may have struck when things were slow. We’re falling quickly into a busy year, so it’s vital you and your team have your best game on.