I’m fortunate enough to live on a little tropical island off the coast of Texas. The Gulf of Mexico is my backyard, golf cart parades are the norm, rhinestone encrusted flip-flops are considered dress shoes, and casual Friday means that the last one to the dockside bar has to buy the first round and you better not get there past 2pm or it’s you. We’re a tourist destination, and a really fun one, with a lively music scene and great fresh fish and shrimp at locally-owned restaurants. The next time you’re in Port Aransas, be sure and let me know.
It’s an idyllic life, and I don’t take it for granted.
I’m also blessed with a plethora of life-lessons that come with living in a drinking village with a fishing problem (yes, you read that right). Lessons that Mother Nature teaches like “don’t build that close to the water” and “you better help your neighbor board up because he’s the one that also sells the gas you need to outrun a hurricane.” We have an interdependent relationship. We don’t all get along, but we need one another. The Bistro sometimes sends their dishwasher across the street to the Italian restaurant for ice when they run out. The Italian restaurant knows the Bistro won’t tow cars that overflow to their parking lot. In the strictest sense, they’re competitors. In reality, it’s called co-opetition. A contraction for cooperative competition. All it means is that the Bistro sometimes gets ice, and the Italian Restaurant can sometimes use their parking lot.
Another little saying around here is, “A High Tide Raises All Boats.” That means that if we work together to make sure our tourists love our town, they might eat at the Bistro one night, and the next night they might eat at the Italian place. Everyone wins. You rarely catch anyone talking down any other business in town. One bad local review means the tourists might not come back and then we all suffer.
I think the same can be said about our chosen industry. Travel, despite its global reach, is a small industry.
I recently “unfriended” someone on Facebook after a few weeks of seeing posts designed to market his business. He’s a “young professional” and his niche is most definitely the party-crowd. Nothing wrong with that. He’s a brilliant marketer. He’s found his niche, he engages them and has definitely experienced success. As a marketer, I applaud him.
What prompted my dismissal (which I’m sure wasn’t even a blip on his radar) wasn’t his niche, or the fact that the marketing message was definitely not for this 41 year old mom of a college sophomore. As the youngest-ever Certified Travel Counselor (CTC) I was once the youngest kid in the room at trade shows. And the smartest. Just ask me.
What made me click was the unfair characterization of “old” travel agents. The message over and over was (and I’m paraphrasing) that people should book with him because “old” travel agents don’t know what they’re doing anymore. The disrespect wasn’t even thinly veiled, in my opinion, and so I exercised my right to excuse myself from his online conversations.
This industry can’t afford to tear itself apart, and that’s what sent me to the “unfriend” button. Chances are that the young hipster travelers, having already found you, won’t really consider using her mom’s agent down the street and that’s just fine. There’s enough business for everyone, if we’re all smart about it. Work your niche, and don’t worry about anyone else. Truly. Market yourself, and don’t do it by trashing those that came before you, did it differently, and are still around. A lot aren’t. The ones that are left have to be good to get the job done.
The problem I have is generalizing “old” travel agents as obsolete, which they aren’t. Most are vital, and vibrant and booking more travel than ever. Most are drawing upon their life’s experiences, coupled with their growing knowledge of how to succeed by using social media and re-connecting with a client base that’s become disillusioned with “the internet.”
We, as an industry, need to attract and retain young professionals. We need to show them the respect they deserve as entrepreneurs and innovators and great new-media marketers. There is much to learn from them. They don’t have the baggage we sometimes have and they certainly don’t lament about the good ‘ol days. They see possibilities, opportunities and unlimited potential.
But there is also much to learn from the “old” travel professional that knows Hong Kong shopping like that back of her hand. Or used to work with a local tour operator in Ireland and can get clients out of jam. Or has been on every ship afloat and knows the captains by name.
There is no room for disrespect. Quite frankly, there is no TIME for disrespect. We don’t need internal challenges to go along with the global threat of obsolesce we face every time we turn around. We need each other to help educate the general public that we’re still here, despite what Liz Lemon on 30-Rock and President Obama says. One day young professionals wont be young, but right now they can be professional.
Chelle Honiker-Yarbrough, CTC is the Director of TravelGeekSchool.com – an online learning center for travel professionals, offering courses and tips on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Gmail, WordPress and other super-geeky tech stuff. Visit her website at www.travelgeekschool.com and follow her on Twitter @chelleyarbrough or http://facebook.com/travelwebmarketing.