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The Year Of The Tiger?

Yesterday, the world ushered in 2010 and kicked 2009 (thankfully) to the curb. On February 14, 2010, the Chinese will celebrate the beginning of the Year of the Tiger according to the Chinese Zodiac.  But what about the travel professional? While we all hope it somehow becomes the “Year of the World Cruise on Crystal For A Group of 200”, more realistically it will be the Year of Adaptation.

Adaptation is nothing new to any travel professional that has been in the industry for any length of time.  From red carbon backed tickets to airline commissions to legitimate AD-75s to a commission-less airline structure—we have seen it all, and adapted. I suspect that 2010 will also be a year that the industry sees great change and in order to thrive in the new normal, we will once again be forced to adapt. The secret is to be prepared, limber, and ready to pounce. Adaptation will be needed in three areas.

Pricing

Stein Kruse from Holland America recently admitted that the cruise lines will do whatever is necessary to operate at 100% capacity. If that means selling a cruise for a dollar (earning you a whopping 17 cents) that is what they will do. Unless you are selling 353,000 cruises a year, this model is not going to work too well for you. How are you going to adapt here? You can charge a fee. You can align yourself with legitimate preferred vendors. You can focus on a niche. You can focus on groups. You can resolve to pre-sell commissionable add-ons such as shore excursions. You could charge a retainer for your services (it works well). You could charge your clients for your time and refund them any commissions which are earned. Or you can use a combination of tactics. But the key is to keep an eye on it. When your income is based on commission and the sales price begins to erode, it is very easy to find yourself behind the eight ball very quickly.

Technology

We all know that technology moves swiftly. Just when everyone thought nothing could beat an iPhone, along comes the Droid.  If you follow any technology trends, 2010 is a year that will throw the web on its ear and you will see social media explode. If you are not actively engages in social media (blogging, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, MySpace, etc) you need to at least become familiar with it and see how it can help your business—pop into the TRO Community for some good advice and suggestions. Lest you think that social media is nothing but a flash in the pan, consider that for the first time in 23 years you will not see a Pepsi ad during the Super Bowl game on February 7th. Instead they are opting to spend $20 million on social networking. Studies show that the SuperBowl penetrates 45% of US homes. However, social media penetrates 85% of the desired demographic.  At the very least, be aware if not involved.

Consumer Perception

As Holland America Line noted, the cruise lines will do what is needed to operate at 100%. The unintended result of this is that the consumer becomes trained to expect this price. For those who were around in 2001, do you recall how long it took to a) travel again, and b) to get pricing back to a reasonable level where suppliers and agents could make a profit? We are beginning to come out of one of the worst financial recessions in history and the spending habits of the consumer have been permanently altered.  I was at the mall this past week and clearance signs of 70% and 80% were the norm. Your clients have now grown accustomed to the $299 cruise fares; one only has to look at how difficult it is to sell the Oasis of the Seas to validate that. How do you counter the perception? In a word—education. We all know that there is no comparison between the Fantasy and the Oasis of the Seas. We need to educate the consumer on the differences. We need to teach them what we do for them and why they should entrust us to plan their experience. One of my resolutions this year is to no longer sell any trips or vacations. I am selling “experiences” and that will be my word of the year in all of my marketing materials.  And each time I am given the change, I will make sure that my client or prospect knows exactly why they are buying what they are buying and why they are buying it from me!

I am not sure about you, but after the challenges of 2009, you can be sure that I will be prepared for whatever 2010 throws my way. In addition to providing experiences for my clients, I will be able to adapt in this Year of Adaptation!

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