Last week in Boston, I met some fantastic people. I also met a some agents, which a colleague refers to as “old and crusties.” Now it is not meant to be a derogatory term, but it is an accurate one. The knowledge and skill present at the Home Based Travel Agent Forum was beyond reproach. But for some, the resistance to change…make that the unwillingness to even consider change, was remarkable. For an industry that has been on the leading edge of technology, I was somewhat shocked. Maybe these “old and crusties” are simply biding their time before hanging up their fare ladders. But if they aren’t they had better change their tune. Let me take you on a trip down Memory Lane.
Before I was in the industry, apparently there were books that were published listing the two fares on each airline—coach and first class. The agent looked up the city pairs and got the fare. Tickets were hand written and some idiot felt that red carbon that easily rubbed off was the ideal medium for duplication. But that all changed. And we adapted.
Soon, agents had these big bulky boxes on their desks. They were called computer terminals and they glowed either green or yellow. They were connected to the airlines and brought all of the information virtually instantly to the agent’s desktop. The airlines no longer needed to wait for a guide to be printed and distributed to change their pricing. But that all changed. And we adapted.
Before you knew it we had color monitors, the Internet and Online Travel Agencies like Orbitz, Expedia, and Travelocity. The consumer had the information which was once “ours” at their desktop. Often, our customers knew more about their destination than we did. But that all changed. Are we willing to adapt?
Social media is the next great evolution. Faxes evolved into PDFs and email. Email is quickly evolving into texting (just ask a teenager). And people are now communicating on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Yelp, and many others. Facebook currently has more than 800 million users. More than 50% of them log in to the site daily! And more than 350 million users access the site through a mobile device! Twitter is seeing a similar growth, but the numbers are not yet as significant.
So, let me ask you a question—where do you think your customers are going to come from tomorrow? Will they be seeing your advertisement on the Yellow Pages? Will they see your ad in the Sunday newspaper (if one is still published in your town)? Will they be waiting at home for you to make a semi-annual phone call? The answer is not a simple “no”; it’s a big “hell no!”
It is not rocket science. To find customers, you need to go where the customers are. Are you willing to do what it takes to reach them?
We have been branded as extinct and outdated for years. Even our own President said we were a dying industry. But he is wrong. Just as everyone before him. If nothing else, we are an adaptive industry and when we are thrown lemons, we make lemonade. The advantage we have is that we have little control over major influences (weather, war, politics, disease) in our industry. It is an advantage because we know how to get back up, shake it off and move right along. Right now, we are in another situation where we need to adapt and move along. Are you with me? Or are you with the “old and crusties”?