No doubt things are looking up. Compared to the last few years, however, there were not too many other directions to trend. Agents and suppliers alike are reporting much stronger bookings. The mood is one of “cautious optimism” – a phrase I’ve heard many times in the last few months. But before we begin feeling too good about our prospects, let’s take a moment to ensure that we learned some lessons from the travails of the recent past. It’s one thing to come through bad times intact – it’s another to repeat mistakes. Weathering a storm once is no assurance of making it through a second time. We are all planning for 2015, and while things are good now, let’s pause just a moment to ask an important question or two.
Hate to be a buzz kill, but how prepared is your travel agency for the next disaster?
Travel is a discretionary spend and the consumer is a very skittish spender. Financial and political turmoil in Europe, ebola, ISIS and radical Islamists, not to mention the next act of terrorism can grind the travel industry to another near-halt. Our industry is very vulnerable to world events. We know this, yet many travel companies are completely unprepared when unexpected events appear overnight in the headlines. Panic sets in and the question of “What do I do now?” is on everyone’s mind.
A little disaster preparedness is in order.
Contingency planning is smart business. Although we cannot possibly know the precise details of the next calamity, we can prepare our companies to withstand the full brunt of bad times with some planning. The faster your company can react to a situation, the quicker it can get ahead of both the consuming public and your competition, the more likely you will be the one to come out on top when times normalize again. Therefore, let’s take the time to plug into our business plans a contingency plan.
Preparing for the unknown and unexpected is a worthwhile exercise to keep your company lean and never overly confident of its position in the market. Here are a few items to work through if you are so inclined:
- This year was good enough to provide us all with a nice, long list of possible scenarios that could occur again in the future. Make a list of disasters that could happen on the world stage and jot down some ideas on how your would cope. What measures would you take to survive in the first three months?
- Next, examine your local community’s economy and environment. What if a major employer in your home town tanked? How would you handle the downturn? Plan now.
- Everyone is on a mad dash to specialization in travel for good reason, but let’s also remember the merits of diversification. Those tour operators to almost any nation in Africa who also serviced other destinations were certainly happy for their diversification this year when ill educated tourists, mostly US citizens, identified “Africa” as the destination rather than three countries in West Africa. Be prepared to offer alternatives if your clients go skittish on you.
- Insist, insist, insist that your clients purchase travel insurance. Do we need better examples that we have lately had? Clients who lose this year’s vacation to an unforeseen disaster and who are uninsured will not be back this year and maybe never. If they are saved by your insistence on buying travel insurance you are the hero.
- Grow the expense side of your business cautiously and set aside contingency funds for an emergency. We all know this simple lesson, but how many of us actually do it? What expense line items can you jettison quickly if you must? Especially be cautious of fixed, contractual overhead and capital expenditures that drain the coffers.
- Never quit marketing. Market smarter. Focus on your best clients and those within closest reach if times turn downward. Satisfied clients who can provide you with testimonials and referrals are some of your most important assets during a downturn. Have a marketing plan for bad times ready to go.
- What communications would you have with your best clients? How would you speak to them, communicate opportunity, alternatives and excitement? Calm their fears?
The planning you do now could save your travel planning practice in the future. Buzz kill? Yes, maybe. But it might help you sleep a bit better at night.