Back in 2008, Travel Research Online published its first article. Who would have thought that giving away free tools to travel agents could prove to be a viable business plan? Richard Earls had the idea, and he did prove the naysayers wrong. Now as we enter into 2016, TRO has established itself as a powerful voice in the travel industry with one of the largest reaches and most robust platforms. Nearly 4,000 articles have been published and this column, the Editorial Musings, now sits at 369. Wow. We have taken the past two weeks off to refresh ourselves, to spend time with our families and loved ones, and to reflect on where we’ve been and where we are headed. And to that I say—bring it on! 2016 will be full of experiences for the travel community.
In 2008, we were in a horrid recession and with each succeeding year we clawed our way up and are finally out of it. While there is still much uncertainty in the global marketplace, people in the US are traveling again. They are spending money. But their travel is markedly different than 2008.
While cruises and packaged vacations are still a very big part of most agencies’ offerings; today’s traveler is moving away from the packages. Women hate to come to a cocktail party and see another woman with the same dress. Today’s travelers are looking for something different. At the cocktail party, they do not want to compare notes with their neighbor on the same trip each of them took separately.
They are looking to compare notes on the experiences they had on an awesome adventure. We can all go to a resort in the Caribbean and eat, drink, swim, snorkel, to our heart’s content. And let’s be honest, Resort A is not that much different than Resort B. Cruise C is not too different than Cruise D. There will always be a place for these (well at least in the foreseeable future) but the growth is in experiences.
Couple the desire for experience along with the now re-opened wallets and purses, and the travel industry is looking pretty good for 2016. You want a bonus? Our largest competitor, the Internet, can easily compete with Resort A or Cruise D; but they are unable to compete with the experience a travel agent can provide!
We are in the enviable position of knowing what others do not. If we do not know it, we know how to find it. How often have you heard “wow, I did not even realize you could do that”? Seek out the help of your local connections for the unusual and experiential for your clients. After a trans-Atlantic flight, a private car is much better than a taxi or a train. A dinner with a local family is ten-fold as good as the “international buffet night” at Resort B. Touring an elephant nursery and actually working with newborn elephants is infinitely more awesome than “just a safari.”
And it does not need to be extravagant. Are your clients teachers? Make arrangements to visit and sit in a local school—maybe have them bring some needed supplies. Maybe they can talk about how school is handled back home.
We all have visitors to our hometowns as well. I live in a “tourist town” and have been in contact with the local CVB to offer my “experiences.” If someone contacts the CVB looking for an experience, I often get a referral. It is not a lot of money, often times it is none at all; but my local knowledge is valuable to an agent in Duluth. I can find someone to take his or her client sailing. I can get them on a tour of a working lighthouse in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay. I can have a local waterman take them out crabbing and see how fresh crabs are caught. Look around your town and make yourself the expert. It may (likely will) be selfless, but that’s OK, too. We can all use a dose of good karma.
2016 is here. It is coming in like a lion and there are a lot of opportunities. According to Chinese astrology, this is the year of the monkey; I might suggest that the travel industry make it the year of the experience.