I would like to ask your indulgence for a bit as I tell a story—the point of which will become apparent at the end.
The other night, I was having a discussion with a neighbor about the crazy Arizona wildfires. Reportedly, they are currently consuming more land than Manhattan and Chicago combined. During the conversation we began talking about the great loss of the land and were reminded of a lesson we learned a long time ago. For a forest to truly flourish, it needs to burn down.
Certainly when tragedy strikes a forest, it appears as if the end is near. Flames consume all that is in their path and leave very little life in their wake. But in time, some of the stronger seedlings begin to re-appear. Unbelievably, they even grow. They grow very slowly; but very steadily establishing a firm root system to support them for a long time. The remnants from the fire (the carbon) give them some added nutrients to continue their growth. Eventually the seedlings become saplings. The saplings become little trees. The little trees become larger trees. And the larger trees become giants. Not the regeneration of a forest certainly takes time. Immediately after extinguishment, it appears as if all is lost. But through persistence and smart utilization of the nutrients available, entire forests do regenerate to flourish again.
September 11, 2001 was the travel industry’s fire. It literally consumed everything in its wake. Personally, my business plummeted 84% as a result. Agencies went out of business. Suppliers closed up shop. The ones that stuck it out had to figure out how to regenerate.
And the industry did. The travel suppliers had no choice but to cut pricing to get people traveling again. If you were in the industry, you remember cruise pricing as low as $25 per person per day. And unfortunately these prices were just what was needed to get people traveling; but they were unsustainable. Enter increased NCFs, reduced commissions, increased fees, direct bookings, and cut backs from previously commissionable items. Because of the “new normal” pricing, the suppliers needed to do something to sustain themselves. Consider this a flare up of the original fire—further scorching the forest where the travel agents live.
As for the agents, many simply went out of business. Many sold, merged or otherwise consolidated. The ones that were left on the scorched forest floor looked around to find some nutrition to keep their businesses afloat. They found their carbon in the form of service fees for services rendered, preferred supplier selections, and new technologies to expand their marketing reach. The agents were dealt a double whammy—the consumers initially did not travel and when they finally came back, the suppliers made sure that the income was much less than before.
Now, here we are in 2011 and the forest is indeed coming back to life. There are many trees/agencies who did not survive, yet there are also many who were able to establish routes and find ways to grow. To be sure, it is a slow growth. Forests can take anywhere from a century to a millennia. Travel agencies—not quite as long. The secret is use the tools and nutrients that have been left behind to establish yourself in your community and in the minds of your clients and prospects. Before long, you will be growing and every so slowly reaching to the sky!