Planning for the New Normal

It’s hard to believe how the recession has made everyone calmer and more paced these days. We’re all wiser, stronger and more unified as an industry than ever before. No one is bragging about how well their business is doing. Everyone has become civil and honest with their competitors. I hope this new practice remains even after the boom times return.

I’d love to forecast when we’ll see this gloomy economy become more robust, but I can’t. I am encouraged, however, by some of the recent upticks in the stock market and in other business-related indices.

So, what am I hearing? Paul Wiseman, president of Trafalgar Tours, who visited us today, says that his company is not planning for a stellar 2010; they’re hoping instead that travel patterns will finally level off in 2009 and maintain that plateau into next year. Trafalgar is keeping up with the close-in demand for hotel capacity, Wiseman said, noting that that’s a tricky feat these days. At some point, tour operators have to surrender reserved hotel blocks if they’re not going to fill them, so how do you handle the last-minute traveler deciding to take that value-added vacation after all?

Hotels are in the same predicament when it comes to planning. Top resorts continue to fight the “party” image AIG implanted on them earlier this year, but corporate travelers are still traveling. The only problem is, you don’t know when they’ll do it. The sales director for a well-known golf resort this morning told me that their bookings are tracking about a 60 percent occupancy four weeks out, only to blossom to 85 percent days prior to arrival. They’re happy for the business, but this “new normal” plays havoc on planning and basic business operations. “Corporate travelers are being told at the last minute, ‘just go, get it done,’” she told me.

While all of these dynamics are batting us about, let’s focus on some good things. It’s easier than ever for travel agents to communicate with consumers, free of charge. Twitter has moved ahead of the pack in a big way. I see Liberty Travel and its sister company, GoGo Worldwide Vacations, promoting their deals there to the public and a number of other individual agents establishing themselves as travel experts there. I’m sure in three months I’ll be telling you of newer online vehicles that have outsmarted Twitter but for now, give it a shot. It’s free and you can help build your business there. You can look for us at and

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