Let’s start off with some confessions. First of all, I cannot handle all of the travel needs of everyone in the world that wants to book a vacation. I couldn’t even handle the travel needs of everyone in the United States. Frankly, I couldn’t even cope with everyone in Tennessee, or just middle Tennessee. There is enough business out there today for the travel agencies of the world. So I do not fear AAA as my competition, or Costco, or the home-based Cruise Planner a couple of miles away, or the honeymoon specialist in the next town over, or even the big OTA’s (Expedia, et al).
Yes, there are times we will butt heads as clients will occasionally contact more than one travel agency for a quote. I especially see this a lot in the honeymoon / destination market, but it can happen in any niche. When that happens to me, I will make my case for my agency, based on my specialties, my personal experiences, testimonials from past clients, etc. I will not, however, promise to beat the other agents’ prices. I will not get into a tit-for-tat-who-can-rebate-more whizzing contest. In my opinion, we all lose when that happens. And really, it does make it a lot harder to collaborate at NACTA, OSSN, or other local TA events. If we are all circling the room looking at each other as the mortal enemy, it’s hard to work together to promote travel agents in general to consumers.
I do not even consider my suppliers (the ones that sell direct) as my competition.
With that said, who do I consider to be my competition? Who do I sharpen my nails and fangs to compete with? Here are just a few that I view as the competition:
- boat and RV dealers
- Bass Pro shops
- DIY home improvement stores
- anyone that sells xBox, PlayStation or Wii gaming consoles
- anybody selling 60” flat screen televisions, BlueRay players, iPads, iPhones
- furniture stores
In short, anyone else that is after my client’s discretionary income. The economy of the past two to three years has had a real impact on the psyche of the American public. I am noticing fewer people are maxing out credit cards. They may use credit cards to pay, but they are turning around and paying off the cards immediately with cash on hand. They are financing less ( paying cash for a car or financing a less expensive car, buying used instead of new, etc.). If they have equity in their homes, they are much less likely to take out a line of credit against the equity, for fear of another housing market downturn. And when they do take out a line of credit, it’s for home improvements or emergency expenses.
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I’m afraid the days are gone when our clients would pay willy-nilly without regard for how they’d eventually pay off their credit cards. So we are faced with clients with less money to “play with” so to speak. Will they use their discretionary income to buy a new car? A new mega-sized flat screen television? Maybe they are eyeing a fishing boat? Or the tool aisle is singing its siren song from Home Depot. Or will they spend the money on a jaw-dropping, eye-popping, once-in-a-lifetime vacation? That is what / who I am competing with, not the agency on the other side of town.
But, I’ve got Oprah on my side! Recently she had Goldie Hahn on her show and the topic was happiness. And what did they have to say about happiness? That “it is better to give experiences.” They went on to say that “an impact of a new thing only last about 9 months but an experience (like a cooking class or vacation) is a memory that will increase happiness for the long term.” In a nutshell, giving an experience will have a much longer lasting effect than a physical gift. And that adds to my arsenal of ammunition when I’m gunning for the REAL competition I am selling happiness, memories, and life time experiences that won’t be forgotten before the next birthday or Christmas rolls around.
So who are you really competing with?
(Susan Schaefer is the owner of Ships ‘N’ Trips Travel (www.shipsntripstravel.com) located in Brentwood, Tennessee, and specializes in leisure travel with a focus on group travel and charity fundraisers. Through their division Kick Butt Vacations (www.kickbuttvacations.com) she focuses on travel for young adults under 35. Susan can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (888) 221-1209).