For this month’s diary, I thought it would be useful to share how we’ve dealt with groups that were already booked and prepared. But we’ve been challenged by possible cancellations due to the recent incidents in Paris, Istanbul, and Brussels.
Being in Europe, we’ve of course felt the shock waves, and when you have business all planned into your operating budget, any cancellation of already confirmed business is obviously a game changer.
The groups I’m talking about are the ones we have scheduled to travel within the 2nd quarter of this year. The group sizes vary and their revenue contribution to our operations is quite significant. So as anyone in our business can imagine, at this time most of the arrangements such as hotels, transport, and tours are already firmed up. Some were as far back as late last year, and some were as recent as 2 weeks to a month or so ago. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, lead times for bookings have become shorter, even for group business. But generally, they’re already accounted for and it’s just a matter of fine-tuning all the minute details to make sure they all have an amazing experience.
The amount of work we put in for a group is pretty much the same as handling a complicated tailor-made itinerary for a family of four. And when you compare the invoice amount, which could be many times over in favor of a group, it’s obvious where we should put our time and energy, unless it’s an individual client with top dollars to spend. As an example, we had a family from Asia traveling on a 2-week holiday to Spain and they only wanted the best of the best. The invoice value for their trip was around USD $60,000. An amount which easily surpasses the business we get from a group of 100 persons requiring simply a 2-night hotel accommodation in a European city like Prague and nothing else.
But since business is business, we never really differentiate. A client is a client whether they’re individuals or a group, and we’d like to provide them with the most amazing experience they can have with the products and services we specialize in.
In the end though, despite our diligence in making sure that all the little details are covered in order to make a group’s experience an amazing one, any untoward incident like the one in Paris, Istanbul, or Brussels could eliminate all the hard work and time we’ve already invested in a millisecond.
We have one group of 105 persons from Denmark scheduled on a 2-day meeting in Istanbul. Due to a government warning on travel to Istanbul, the group cancelled all the arrangements despite paying all the deposits. They wanted to do an alternative destination, but due to time constraints, they had to abandon their planned meeting altogether and would reschedule next year. Suddenly, we needed to put in all the additional work processing all cancellations and refunds. On top of that, we are left with a hole in our revenue budget due to the significant size and budget this meeting group was spending.
Another group of 30 persons from Hong Kong scheduled to travel to Paris in April immediately cancelled all further arrangements and skipped Europe altogether this year, even though we’ve been doing their groups annually for five years.
Fortunately, there are some cases that end up differently. We have one University group from Prague that receives exchange students from the U.S. Part of their exchange program while here in Prague is a 3-day trip to Istanbul to visit actual sites while studying their history and culture. We’ve been helping this group for four years and it’s been great working with them as their requirements are pretty straightforward from flights to all their land arrangements. But a few weeks back, the University in the U.S. canceled the program after the incident in Istanbul and asked for an alternate destination. They decided on Athens. Fortunately for everyone, although this was a last minute change, we managed to pull off the number of rooms they required within their budget. Otherwise, this would have been another one simply disappearing from our books.
The moral of the story for us is that we can’t really count our eggs until they’re hatched, and sometimes it’s best not to account for business until it’s completed. On the other hand, we still need to account for all our forward bookings. And due to the volatility of the travel business in general, we need to be aware of any impact that political and economic factors may cause. In our case, we hope that if these factors affect one of our business units like when our tour and travel operations lost some groups, we hope that the other business units under our roof would help compensate the loss.
We also simply take on a positive approach to all these things. For instance, I personally run our Monday morning meetings that I call our Hour Of Power. We discuss and review the previous week’s tasks and the coming week’s tasks. But before we get down to business, I get our team to share something positive, whether its some activity they enjoyed on the weekend, or a thought or an idea—as long as it’s positive. I have found that this never fails to lighten up the mood as we begin the week. It’s great, especially in a volatile industry like ours, and in the information age we live in where news is everywhere. Sometimes the smallest negative news can create massive shifts to our bottom line unintentionally.
And as for me, I’m traveling on a business trip to Geneva this weekend and I will be flying via Brussels. The airport is now open and all I can really think of is “business as usual.” And that’s the way it should be.
Vincent Soriano is the Founder & Managing Director of Art Of Travel. Based in Prague, Czech Republic Art Of Travel specializes in Marketing & Sales Representation as well as delivering travel experiences throughout Central & Eastern Europe. And with its strong affinity to Asia, partners and customers also rely on their expert knowledge of Philippines, Thailand, and the rest of Southeast & North Asia. To know more, visit www.ArtOfTravel.eu. Vincent can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org