MAST Conference: Price Drives Market as Consumers Pinch Pennies

High airfares, consumer price sensitivity and supplier direct solicitation are among the key concerns of travel agent members of MAST Travel NetworkJohn Werner, president and COO reports, following MAST’s 21st Annual Conference in Baltimore. Over 187 attended the four-day event. MAST has nearly 200 agency members in ten states and Canada. 

“MAST members are concerned with an economy that still has people pinching every penny, customers that continually look for a better price even after they have paid a deposit, watching to see if the price on the cruise or all-inclusive resort package they have booked has dropped,” Werner told Travel Agent.

High airfares are another area of concern. “High airfares are causing customers to drive (gasoline prices are no bargain either). This affects families particularly. Over spring break, this year, a lot of families drove to Florida from the Midwest to take a cruise or stay at Disney World because airfares were over $500.00 p.p. High airfares are also holding-back people from traveling to Europe," Werner says.

Werner said the conference featured a number of industry executives, including Steve Gorga, president of Travel Impressions. Gorga urged agents to be amazing, know who are your most profitable customers, and to carefully evaluate your suppliers for trust, integrity, stability, reputation and service.

Cheryl Ahearn, SVP of market development for ASTA, also addressed the group saying, “ASTA is the only travel agency trade association with active representation with legislators and regulators in Washington, D.C.”

The conference also featured Brian Stack, CEO of CIE Tours International, who spoke on delivering quality and exceptional service.

Direct booking is a third area of concern for MAST members, Werner reports. “ Frequent direct marketing by suppliers to agency clients is causing some customers to book direct even though they are not unhappy with their agent. The direct solicitation really encourages booking direct even when accompanied by the message to call your professional travel advisor.”

“Furthermore, this aggressive style of direct solicitation is done by companies that consider themselves strong supporters of the travel agency channel," Werner says.

“In fact, it looks to me that the marketing departments of some suppliers compete for resources and have opposing strategies working against one channel over another. So instead of one unified marketing strategy for multiple distribution channels, marketing messages are not coordinated and contradict one another in the minds of consumers, as I see it," Werner says.

MAST members are also cautious in their forecasts. “Members tell me they have been busy so far this year, but refrain from declaring how good this year is compared to last year or another year. Nowadays, you don’t take the money to the bank until you are sure it’s yours to keep – too many refunds, price reductions, recalled commissions, etc.,” Werner said.

MAST’s annual Owner’s Summit will be held, Tuesday, June 12 in Chicago. This is a one-day conference for agency owners that focuses on agency operations, issues important to business owners and sharing of ideas among MAST members. MAST is a member-owned agency group based in Oakbrook Terrace, IL

Seminar presenters at the a Baltimore conference included Mike Marchev on sales opportunities; Sophie Bujold on Facebook marketing for travel agents; Anna Fesmire on becoming a luxury travel specialist; Nancy Baumann of Royal Caribbean on building customer loyalty and Nancy Friedman, The Telephone Doctor.

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