To the Editor:
The events of the past few weeks have caused an unprecedented wave of shock and uncertainty in Americans and citizens all over the world. Everywhere, people are double checking their financial statements and trying to figure out what to do. Governments across the globe are injecting aid by the billions into their local banking sectors in an effort to shore up reserves in the face of this financial crisis. Retailers are slashing prices and starting holiday sales early trying to salvage what looks to be an anemic holiday shopping season. Auto makers, even those once thought invincible, are reporting record losses, and offering deep discounts in hopes of reversing market share free fall. In light of all this red ink and the clear signs of a global recession, many in the travel industry are asking; what are we facing now? What is our newest test?
First, we can expect the travel industry to go through yet another transformation similar to those we experienced after the first Gulf War and after September 11th. Unfortunately, accompanying this reinvention will likely come another round of mergers and closures. We can expect every segment of the market from upscale seasoned travelers to the first-time and aspiring travelers to pause before committing to that trip. However, it is important to understand that on a broader scale this kind of slow down is needed as a corrective measure within the economy. While nobody likes or asks for a recession, it is at times necessary in order to keep our economy on the path of manageable growth.
Secondly, with the understanding of what to expect, let’s look at what we can do. Opportunities always reveal themselves during unsettled times. Similar to past challenges, travelers will further define new niches according to their interests. As an industry, we have to be ready to respond to those new demands, not as a passing trend, but as a market segment. Change is fundamental and inevitable, and we either respond to it or be swept away.
It is important that the travel industry remember that we sell experiences, emotions and dreams that, for the most part, carry a higher value than nearly any other product or service. For this very reason, we need to avoid the pitfall of the “fire sale” mentality. Every company and every agency is geared for a specific segment of the market, and it is imperative that we further define our respective markets. We can offer tactical specials born from strategy and not desperation.
Additionally, as we reposition ourselves, this is the perfect time for us as an industry to return to the highest level of ethics. As I have said before, we are running a parallel track to the finance industry and may have government regulation to deal with unless drastic changes are made. During these challenging times, we have seen how unethical practices in other industries have brought down even the largest companies. Unethical practices across the board will be scrutinized even more closely. The common instinct will be to follow the trend of cutting services to save cost. This time let’s come together to increase services to gain respect.
Unlike other products inundating our customers, travel cannot be measured by karats, by performance, or by manufacturer. It is measured by the emotional bond and the never-ending thirst for education and enrichment. For this very reason, we have to remember that while tastes may change and trends come and go, the passion and demand for travel will never disappear. Understanding this means acknowledging that 2009 will not be defined by desperate choices, but by altered choices. One thing is certain, we do have a beacon of hope that out of the challenging environment unprecedented growth awaits. And, now is the time for the travel industry to correct our flaws and return to our founding principles. Remember, we don’t just make dreams come true, we create them, too.
Ashish Sanghrajka, President
Big Five Tours & Expeditions