New Brands, the Euro and Slowing Leisure Travel

When I took a walk across 57th Street in Manhattan the other day I felt as if I were in a shopping mall. I was seeing virtually the same stores I see when I go to Las Vegas, Waikiki or Roosevelt Field, on Long Island. They were all very good stores, but there was nothing special.

That evening I recalled a shop I used to frequent called Azuma on Lexington Avenue, just below Bloomingdale's. It's been gone for years, replaced, I believe, by a Banana Republic, but I still have great memories of going in there to pick through eclectic housewares. Where else could you purchase a left-handed potato peeler' Azuma had all sorts of unusual, items mixed in with the more mundane and I always felt as if I were enjoying a terrific experience when I went in there. The most ironic part of the whole thing is that Azuma probably sold the least expensive items on the entire block, yet proved to be the most interesting. My point here is that if a retailer wants to stand out, it has to have something that grabs the eye of the consumer, and then engages them long enough so that they'll decide to purchase something. (If Azuma could convince me that I needed a left-handed potato peeler, they were doing something right.)

As a retail travel agent, you need to be sure that you are standing out from the fray with the service that you offer and the way in which you promote yourself. If you have a niche, it's dire that you are able to relay it to the customer in a quick and comprehensive manner. While you're at it, have some fun with your pitch so that the client will be engaged.

Along those same lines, I was interested to read recently that were a total of 34 new hotel brand launches in the U.S. in the 34 months between 2005 and October 2007. That's the largest number of brand introductions in a three-year period since 1989. Talk about having to stand out! Included in the mix were new concepts targeted at Gen-Xers and Millennials, independent brands, and brands affiliated with established lodging companies. Luxury brands led the way with new brands; in all, 18 were launched. The brands that seek the allegiance of the travel agent distribution arm will be those that succeed. By teaming up now with a strong support system that has such a strong influence over the consumer market, they'll be the ones to stand out in the crowd. I was also relieved to hear recently that that the U.S. dollar is forecast to progressively appreciate against the Euro through 2009. Specifically, dollar-to-Euro exchange rates are currently forecast to appreciate by an average of 5.8 percent in 2008 over 2007. That's good news for those of you who send a lot of clients to Europe, which, by the way, hasn't seemed to diminish in popularity with the U.S. market, despite the expense of going there.

And, finally, PKF Hospitality Research noted in a recent report that 'the residential credit-crunch might have a negative impact on leisure travel patterns in the summer of 2008.' The research company noted that hotels will likely not suffer, thanks to the fact that 'corporate profits continue to support commercial lodging demand.' Perhaps this is the time to diversify your business a bit by paying a visit to your local businesses to see if you can assist them with their corporate travel needs.

At this point, in late December, experts are forecasting that there is a 38 percent chance of recession in 2008. If you're a gambler, you may decide that the odds are in your favor and that this is not an issue you need to worry about. If you want to play it safe, however, I suggest you cast an eye toward the luxury market, which tends not to be as affected by blips in the economy as the rest of us are. Here's to a great 2008!

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