Reaching Out to the Reluctant Traveler

It started with Hyundai. Around Christmas time, the car manufacturer began running commercials promoting a special offer—if a customer bought one of their vehicles and subsequently lost their income, Hyundai would make the payments for three months. And if that wasn’t enough time, the car could be returned.

It was a drastic campaign, it seemed to me, with negative overtones (that the likelihood of people losing their jobs was very real), but on repeated viewings my admiration for it grew. Despite the gloomy picture it paints, the folks at Hyundai were really trying to reassure consumers who are reluctant to buy during this frightening economy. The real message is that life goes on—you can't deny yourself everything you want or need.

The “lost income” marketing strategy quickly spread from automobiles to other high-ticket purchases, including travel. Last week, Norwegian Cruise Line unveiled a new safeguard to reimburse customers who lose their jobs, followed in short order by CruiseOne and Cruises Inc., which initiated what they call the "first-ever comprehensive job loss travel insurance policy covering travel on all cruise lines.” The new "CruiseAssurance" initiative is exclusive to consumers booking through one of more than 1,000 CruiseOne or Cruises Inc. home-based agents nationwide, even if they have to cancel their trip at the last minute because of an unexpected layoff. And Jet Blue began offering a similar refund program in February—under its new Promise Program, customers who book flights between Feb. 1 and June 1, 2009, and lose their job on or after Feb. 17 may be eligible for the refund. Expect other airlines, hotels and travel industry players to follow this lead.

For home-based agents, who generally have a much more personal relationship with clients, these types of programs will be a great help in selling travel to a reluctant client base. Talk to your clients, let them know what kind of offers are out there. I’m not suggesting you push them into something they may not feel comfortable about, but at least let them know that there are some options available should they face a loss of income.

I personally have had many discussions with friends lately about how they’re holding off on any vacation plans because of job uncertainty. And yet, this seems to be a time when people need a vacation the most.

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