Opinion: Oasis of the Seas, CityCenter and Opportunity

ASTA’s timely release of the results of its Travel Agency Business Trends survey offers some grim news: travel agents lost revenues, transactions and clients in 2009.

While some travel agencies were able to weather the downturn in the past year, the majority of agencies showed large drops in revenue and transactions, ASTA reports. Most leisure agencies are expected to recover in early 2010 while corporate agencies are not expecting a recovery until the spring of 2010 or later.

Among the findings that compare the first half of 2009 to the same time period in 2008, 78.2 percent of agencies saw a decrease in revenue, while 75.2 percent saw a decrease in transactions.  Nearly 64 percent of agencies saw a decrease in the number of clients. Not surprisingly, corporate agency respondents have seen greater decreases in revenue, ASTA reported.

In response, 76 percent of agencies cut “operating costs” and 54 percent “took less pay” in response to the economy.  More than half of all responding agencies are planning no changes in regards to employees. A larger percentage of corporate agencies are considering changes in regards to employees.

ASTA sensibly conducted the study to assist leisure and corporate agencies in planning for the future as well as benchmarking their first half 2009 sales performance. 

Grim as the survey may be there are many reasons for optimism. Examples include the notable debut of Oasis of the Seas, Royal Caribbean Cruise Line's new ship that is earning rave reviews. Oasis represents a tremendous investment in the future of cruising and confidence in the future— including the viability of the agency distribution system— and it has the ability to excite people and encourage them to explore the world, as well as spend money on travel.

The new ship will present cruisers with still another outstanding choice in travel. Including new features that have great appeal and its many at-sea "firsts" such as an open-air Central Park, an AquaTheatre, the first carousel at sea on the Boardwalk and more. Even more impressive is that the Oasis of the Seas has a sister ship coming, the Allure of the Seas, to be launched in 2010.

There is also good news from Las Vegas, a dynamic world-class destination in its own right. The new CityCenter is an unprecedented mult billion-dollar urban metropolis that opens next month on the Las Vegas Strip. A destination with a destination, CityCenter is a joint venture between MGM Mirage and Infinity World Development Corp, a subsidiary of Dubai World. Among its features, CityCenter offers ARIA, a 61-story, 4,004-room gaming resort. Plus there are luxury non-gaming hotels including Las Vegas’ first Mandarin Oriental and Vdara Hotel & Spa, plus Veer Towers, the development’s only strictly residential buildings. There is also Crystals, a 500,000-square-foot retail and entertainment district.  In addition, the Harmon, a 400-room luxury boutique hotel, is slated to open at CityCenter in late 2010. 

The Oasis of the Seas and CityCenter are but two dramatic and welcomed examples of the opportunities ahead. Travel agents and the travel industry have taken their knocks in the past year. But neither is down or out. In fact, the travel industry is investing, promoting and marketing travel with imagination and flair. And consistently delivering value to the traveling public. 

If you need more reasons for optimism check out the talents on display at Travel Agent Central in the “30Under30” feature that focuses on young, dynamic travel agents who are helping shape the future of the industry. On display are not just talents but a tremendous diversity of destinations, interests and markets that are waiting to be served with skill and expertise by travel agents. The real bottom line may be more than deals or discounts but expertise, management skills and confidence.