As a business owner, what is your number one goal? Why are you in business? I’m not talking the lovey dovey marketing fluff like “creating dreams for my clients” and “designing memories to last a lifetime.” Give it to me straight, why are you in business? It is a simple answer. There really is only one answer (as far as I am concerned) and it is three words long. It is not even unique to the travel industry—not by a long shot. Come close, let me whisper the answer in your ear….
TO MAKE MONEY!
Are we all in agreement? Yes, of course we want to deliver the best product and the best experience to our clients so they refer us and keep coming back. Why do we want that? To make money! We also want to advertise and get out message out in whatever way we can. Why do we do it? To make money! Sometimes we will try a unique marketing idea that is unconventional—back in the days when newspaper advertising was en-vogue I used to run a small black box in the lower corner of every Friday’s Page 3B in my local paper. All it had was my web address. Why did I do that? To make money! Is anyone picking up on a theme here?
So why is it that we can be focused on making money; yet when someone else makes the same attempt they are derided? Last week, on a forum, an argument erupted over a tweet sent by a hotel:
Who needs a travel agent. Book our 15% off Twitter rate + free wifi.
OK, I am the first to admit that I am not a fan of the wording. But this hotel is in business to make money! While we might like to think that travel suppliers are beholden to travel agents, it has been proven time and time again that they are beholden to their own bottom line—as they should be! Anyone remember the Carnival kiosks in the malls? Can anyone name a supplier that does not accept a direct booking? There are a few, but not many. Have you ever wondered the reason? To make money!
This message was sent to their Twitter followers, not to travel agents specifically. It was a message promoting their hotel, a discount, and free WiFi to people that voluntarily signed up to receive their information. They have embraced Twitter (and I am sure other social networking tools) to increase their brand awareness, extend their reach to their customer base, and hopefully to make money for their bottom line!
While the agency channel may be supplying guests to the vendors, apparently they feel we are not doing enough. If we were doing the job to satisfy their bottom line, there would be no need. In a previous column, I spoke with Vicki Freed who indicated that 80% of second time cruisers who booked with an agency on the first cruise did not return to the same agency for the second. Just last week, ASTA released a study that said only 20% of new clients return to an agency for subsequent travel. Is anyone seeing the correlation here?
The message to me is very clear. We are not doing a good enough job as an industry. What other conclusions can you draw?
Over the past year, TRO has been advocating new and different ways to succeed in this industry. As with any new undertaking, some may work, and others may not. We have agency colleagues that have agreed to bare their agency souls in the Travel Agent Diary series. We have agents writing columns on issues that are important to them. Nolan Burris and Mike Marchev will be providing a lot of “in your face” (well, Marchev is from Jersey, so what do you expect?) and “tough love” advice. Chelle Honiker-Yarbrough will be discussing some technology issues many (including me) had never considered, yet we all should. As Michael Batt (CEO of Travel Leaders) has said for years, “If you’re not growing, you’re dying.” Now is not the time for the travel agency to stick their heads in the sand and hope for the best.
In the thread that ensued from that hotel’s tweet, one comment really jumped off the screen:
We have made great strides from the very beginning of commission cuts by the airlines to alter our business model, yet what you espouse is changing from that model.
Well folks, it’s time to change again. Complacency is a dangerous thing. As an industry, we were complacent when the airline commission cuts began. As a nation we were complacent on September 10, 2001. If we are not aware of all the activity surrounding us, we are bound to get caught with our pants down. We cannot control what an airline, hotel, tour operator or cruise line does. If Carnival wanted to terminate all agency agreements tomorrow, it could. Then what?
We need to manage our own destiny in this business. We need to be beholden to ourselves and to remain loyal to our clients. Remember, out of your next ten new clients you see, eight will never be back. Vendors are beholden to themselves and to their shareholders because they need to be successful and they need to make money! Why is it different for an agency? I say it is not.
So, why are you in business? I bet you already know my answer.
This was a hot topic this week. Please leave a comment! We encourage comments and civil comments. And a special note to the many suppliers reading, please chime in and let us know your thoughts as well—no need to identify yourself or your company unless you want.