Maintaining Marketing and Pricing Integrity in Tough Times

Here at Travel Agent magazine, we’re being deluged with press releases from suppliers trying to spur travel with deals and discounts— and I have to say, some of them are more than excellent. There are many value-added promotions that provide free nights and meals and airfare rebates and, in other cases, the minimum-stay required for that precious Christmas-New Year’s week has been reduced.

I, as a consumer, am also being offered substantial savings from those retailers with whom I’ve entrusted my e-mail address. This week, the bargains have gotten better daily, with free shipping and decent discounts being offered if I’ll just agree to buy something…anything. In the offline world, we recently went to Lowes and bought a number of items for the house because we’d received a $10 gift card just for spending just $25. Not bad!

I suspect the deals in the marketplace will continue across the board for sometime as retailers try to navigate this muddled economic landscape in the coming months. During such times, it’s vital that those pushing out the offers keep in mind that there is a human being at the other end of the line. USA Today recently described in an article how online retailers are indeed becoming more and more aggressive with their e-mail marketing campaigns. While the article described similar experiences to what I’ve outlined above, the most notable comment came from the one consumer who complained that the email offers he was receiving were not customized to his demographic or buying patterns; instead, he was being bombarded with discounts on everything from baby goods to women’s clothing.

He made a good point. Today’s customer expects to be approached on a one-to-one basis. Those suppliers who don’t do that will have their massive amount of unread e-mails deleted.

The Moral of This Story: Take care to maintain best policy practices for e-mail marketing even when times get tough. Your customers will appreciate it and you’ll stand out from the fray.

Are the Cruise Lines Overdoing It?

During tough financial times, it’s important that retailers and suppliers take care not to erode the integrity of their product by discounting too much. I’m hearing from travel agents that some of the cruise lines are overdoing it with what appears to be bottomless discounting. I’m surprised this is occurring because I’m sure those in question will find that it’s difficult to return to more realistic pricing when the scene improves. Moreover, deep, deep discounting can change your customer base to such a degree that those clients who had been loyal to your product in the past will simply find it’s no longer for them and turn elsewhere.

An alternative to price slashing is to increase the value of what’s being offered while maintaining price. Provide the free upgrade, the free breakfast, the welcoming cocktail, but avoid the 50 percent price reduction.

A last word of advice: In this environment, working with your consortia partners is more vital than ever. Think about it. These groups, in an effort to remain competitive with one another, are working all year to develop programs that will make your lives easier. If you are a member of a larger group and haven’t had the time to focus on what it is doing for you, now is the time. The health of your business is in their best interest.

As for those value-added deals in the marketplace; has their ever been a better time to travel? If you have clients who are just holding their breath because times are bad, tell them to exhale on a Caribbean island.

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