Thriving in Hard Times

As the economy sputters through the summer, agents have had to listen to dire predictions that the bottom would fall out of leisure travel. The newly coined word “staycation” reared its ugly head and, for awhile, it looked like trends in travel were heading toward a major change. Now it seems as though the American urge to travel is stronger than an economic downturn.

A July 2008 Travel Industry Association/Ypartnership Travelhorizons survey of 2,231 U.S. adults revealed only 9 percent were planning a "staycation,” or home-based vacation, as an alternative to a vacation they otherwise would have taken out of town during the next six months. This is good news for agents and there may even be an opportunity to entice those 9 percent choosing a staycation to leave their home, for at least a day or two. The survey noted that, among those adults planning to take a home-based vacation during the next six months, one out of five expects to stay in a local hotel, motel or resort at least one night on their staycation.

Tips on Thriving During an Economic Downturn

Economic experts seem unable to come to a consensus on how long the economy will remain on shaky ground. While things sort themselves out, there are a few things you can do to make sure your travel agency survives— and possibly even thrives.

Ever since 9/11, travel agents who managed to remain in business were those who proved their worth to their clients. It’s generally believed that high-end luxury travel is comparatively  bulletproof to the effects of an economic downturn. But it could be that there will be some impact to mid-market travel. Agents can step up to the challenge with proactive measures—one of these is the “one tank of gas" concept.

A few weekends ago I was in the California seaside community of Ventura. There wasn’t a hotel room to be found—occupancy was off the charts. The boom for Ventura was attributed to local travel by families and couples who were choosing a one-tank-of-gas holiday over a full-blown vacation comprising flights and resort stays. Agents can tap into this phenomenon by taking a look at their local region and devising some one-tank-of-gas holiday packages that include hotels, restaurants and attractions (especially those attractions that pay commissions). Promote the itineraries locally and you may find yourself with a sizable addition to your customer base. Approach local media such as radio stations and newspapers with your itineraries—these outlets love “news you can use” and I’d be surprised if they didn’t at least give you a hearing.

There are other basic initiatives you can put into place to counter a shaky economy. Don’t neglect to market your agency—get as much attention as you can, whether you’re committing dollars to advertising, or seeking out free exposure. If things get really bad, weak businesses will fall by the wayside. In a thinner field, now’s the time to stand tall.

Cut costs where you can without cutting effectiveness. Maybe an office-equipment upgrade can wait another season. But don’t cut so far into the bone that you’re unable to deliver top-flight customer service. This is no time to lose a customer. That said, if there are customers that are more trouble than they are worth, don’t waste vital resources of time and money on them.

Another important strategy—think long term. That way your plan will be in place when the economy rebounds.


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