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When your travel agency falls behind the eight ball

Let me be polite and say “stuff happens.” Over the last 10 to 15 years, the travel industry has made an incredible shift in terms of business models. While retail and physical locations do remain (and are quite profitable for the most part), the economy saw to it that the industry shifted to a home-based model. It is hard to quantify the number of home-based businesses because many have decided to ditch their airline “partners;” but I think we can all agree that there are likely more one man (or woman) operations than ever before. But with that comes some challenges when “stuff happens.” Your success or failure will likely depend on how well you handle it.

In the past, there was an office buzzing with agents—it may have been one or two or many dozens. But, there was always someone there to step in and catch any overflow. When your phone lines overflowed, it went to another desk. When you stepped away for vacation, your files were turned over to a co-worker. Some inventive home-based agencies even forged partnerships with other home-based agencies to cover each other.

But typically, the home-based office does not have that luxury. You are the receptionist, file clerk, IT geek, accountant, bookkeeper, janitor, and appliance repairman and yes, even a travel professional.  And when something goes awry? What happens?

This past year, I lived through that and have recovered for the most part. The past year was challenging on many levels—2.5 kids in college, elderly parents, several business interests to look after and a general wondering of “how the hell is this all going to get done” left me decidedly behind the eight ball. I was not nearly as proactive in my marketing, emails and phone calls were not returned as promptly as I wanted, and my sales showed for it. I was hopeful that I could recover and I did.

I contacted my clients and simply explained that we felt we may have slipped a bit. We have taken the steps to insure we don’t in the future and we hope that we can continue to earn their confidence by continuing to arrange their travel.

It worked. I received many emails saying they had not noticed; and others with compassion, understanding and voicing similar circumstances in their own lives. I have a trip that we do twice a year and it is almost as familiar as walking to my front door. Last spring, we had 14 families sign up which was about a dozen fewer than normal. I just launched the trip for the fall shortly after my email to my clients and so far the interest has been much stronger than before.  We have collected 16 deposits within the first week and have another 8 weeks to sell. My experience showed that clients are very forgiving if you are honest and upfront with them.

My life is relatively back to normal now; and I am more keenly aware of how I fell behind the eight ball the last time. Phone calls and emails are returned in 24 hours and hopefully nothing more is slipping between the cracks.

It happens to us all. “Stuff happens” and priorities become shifted. I was fortunate that my shortcomings were relatively minor and my clients were graciously forgiving. How have you stumbled and fallen in your business? How did you recover? I’d like to know!

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