TRAVEL AGENTS CAN COMBAT THE EFFECTS of any 2008 economic downturn by applying tested technology, segmented marketing, imaginative promotions and customer relationship management (CRM) tools like those offered by the TRAMS Marketing Alliance (TMA), Lee Rosen, president of TMA, believes.
In an interview with Travel Agent, Rosen reports that early enrollees in TMA—which now comprises about 1,800 agencies—are well on their way to sharply increasing their repeat-business rate, one of the key indicators of agency marketing effectiveness and profitability.
Rosen, a 20-year industry veteran and founder of Los Angeles-based TRAMS, is also offering agents a guarantee that repeat-business rates can be increased—in some cases as high as 75 percent.
"High retention rates do not indemnify agencies from downturns or recessions, but they give them a margin of safety and a competitive edge," Rosen says. Technology-based benchmarking of progress toward goals will continue to be deployed by successful, profitable agencies. More than 30 suppliers belong to the TRAMS Marketing Alliance
Supplier response to the TMA program has been excellent, Rosen says, with 36 supplier participants. TMA was launched last year, combining the marketing and technology resources of TRAMS and the Sabre Travel Network, which owns both TRAMS and TMA.
TRAMS' ClientBase and BackOffice systems remain the industry standard (with 11,000-plus users) and the core of TMA. Rosen said he expects 100 agencies a month to sign on to TMA in 2008.
"The combination of effective CRM, professionally themed e-mail and direct-mail promotions joined with personalized services can help many agencies become recession-proof," Rosen said. Agents who sign up for TMA's program are assigned an account executive to help them get started and optimize the benefits. Costs are as low as $20 a month.
Many TMA users are seeing their repeat-business rates climb and their agencies benefit from lower "new client" acquisition costs, with corresponding benefits to agency bottom-line performance. TMA gives agencies needed control over the timing and content of promotions. "The key is for the agency to deliver value to the client," says Rosen.
He notes that the recent alliance between Expedia and Canadian franchiser CruiseShipCenters underscores new realities in leisure travel marketing. "Agents can't duplicate the online power of major online travel sellers, nor should they. The core value of the travel agency is its ability to relate and service clients with professional competence and personalized service."
He continues: "We should be realistic about the resources that major online players—including Travelocity—bring to the table. They fill a real need among consumers. But they do not replace the travel agent who can deliver value to consumers."
In 2008, Rosen predicts, there will be increased cooperation between suppliers to jointly market a destination or product. "Suppliers are discovering the cost efficiencies and added clout of joint marketing offers. And this adds up to new, exciting opportunities for travel agents and their clients."
Rosen expects record attendance at the TRAMS Technology and Marketing University, slated for April 22-24 in Las Vegas. Agents can register online at www.trams.com/tmu08.