A few weeks ago, I wrote a column discussing the “old and crusty” mentality of the industry. It was meant to stir the pot and create conversation. Unfortunately, it did not happen in the comments as I had hoped and my email began to flood with people who took offense to being labeled “old and crusty” and with many good reasons why “old and crusty” might actually be a good thing in today’s environment. I am not backing down from my stance entirely—I still think we need to be on our feet and to evolve and embrace the technological wonders that are here and coming our way; but I did want to present one of the best responses by a gentleman that I consider a colleague and a good friend. He has many valid points.
Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Olden Krusty and we are a family of travel agents—just like the Arison family of Carnival, only larger and not nearly as well funded .
Many of us in the Olden Krusty family started out in this industry when business technology applications were in their infancy. Most of us attended formal travel business training to some degree, where you were expected to study not just the travel agency side of the industry but also technical elements of airline, hospitality and tour operations—and in my case even air freight and baggage services. The idea was that if you understood how all of those various elements worked together you would be better equipped to serve and advise your clients when it came to negotiating all of that during their travels.
At the very least, the Olden Krusty people usually spent a year or two interning with the Olden Krotchety people of that day in a pressure cooker storefront environment working for practically nothing. The logic was that those old dinosaurs might have something more to impart from their practical experience. After that, you finally began to make your own way forward in the travel agency business.
The other Olden Krusty agents of my generation may have laughably struggled with airline tariffs and red carbon tickets at one time but I can assure you that when something technologically better came along, we embraced it. And it was one thing after another beginning with GDS terminals that were at the cutting edge of business technology when they were introduced. I didn’t know of anyone else using networked computers linked to a powerful mainframe as opposed to just clunky word processors in any industry. Well, maybe someone working for IBM or other major technology and research corporations, but I didn’t know any of those.
Then the Olden Krusty agents began using add-on software programs like CRM and accounting systems well before anything like that was common in most service or retail businesses. We learned and beta tested one advanced technology product after another as they were added to our GDS platforms, invested a lot of money in them and spent quite a bit of dedicated time at training facilities around the county trying to keep up with advancements.
Yes, there was a time when this Olden Krusty constantly worked on the cutting edge of business technology. I still do in many respects.
The Olden Krusty agents built this industry at a time when it involved a major investment in infrastructure–including technology that everyone still uses today. If you are not one of the Olden Krustys you likely don’t use a GDS but you do benefit from the technology and use it at least indirectly through agency web booking platform. You can thank the Olden Krusty agents for developing the core infrastructure tools like consortia, franchises, training programs, service technology and host agency services which make it possible for someone to now jump into the industry feet first without any major investment financially or in training and technology.
As an Olden Krusty, I have weathered some tough times, including a couple of nasty recessions in the earlier days when discretionary travel was more willingly cut than in contemporary times, a Gulf War that brought travel almost to a standstill, and then 9-11 which literally did, at least for a time. Yet during those times the Olden Krusty family kept the store lights on, continued to advertise (yes, in those archaic newspapers and phone books), networked and participated in civic organizations. We did everything we could think of to remind people that we were still there when they realized they needed us again. It was guerrilla-marketing 101 using the best resources that were available to us.
And the Olden Krustys did all that during a time when our vendors began doing everything in their power to marginalize our worth and financial viability in the greater marketplace. Yet we prevailed.
So what is my point? I don’t find it productive to the greater conversation to marginalize our own industry when it comes to comparing just one element such as communication methods utilized. Yes, every Olden Krusty might not be at a point where they feel compelled to embrace social media as a primary or even secondary focus of their marketing efforts. In all candor, a good number of the Olden Krustys are pretty well established with their clientèle and it’s not always a necessary tool, nor is it perceived as overly sophisticated by much of our own client base. It’s a great tool for those who are building their own client base or are focusing on a demographic that responds to social media. We get that. But if we decide it’s not something we determine critical to our own businesses, it certainly isn’t because we are incapable or fearful of utilizing new technology. We already wrote the book on that.
And I don’t feel it means we are candidates for having our demise predicted by those who find social media a critical tool in their business, or held up as a bad example to our contemporaries.
Having new tools to market your services is great. What is your value? Is it the possession of skills and professional resources used in the procurement of travel that exceeds those available on the Internet to the average consumer; or are your prospects more impressed by your methods of communication? Everyone needs to decide for him or herself how important it is to utilize and focus on the technology tools that best fits their business.
Marketing is an extremely important element of any travel agency but it is not always our primary function, at least once you’ve established a book of clients based on a history of having the ability to deliver the goods. For Olden Krusty, that includes providing a skillful conduit to what are still the most technologically advanced resources available in our industry.
We’ve already embraced the technology and business method changes over the years. Some might think that perhaps that gives us a body of experiential knowledge to call upon when evaluating whether or not the next great thing that comes along has a useful application for us. However it does not predict or foretell our demise in this industry if we make an informed decision to pass on it.
That’s the way I see it. And floor is now open for debate.
Well, now that Olden Krusty has spoken, it is your turn. On which side of this debate do you sit? Are there sides? Is social media a “must”, a waste of time, or something in between? Do me a favor, rather than flood my inbox, just leave a comment here and as Olden said—the floor is open!