A Historical Look at Travel Disrupting Issues and Steps You Can Take to Succeed Through Difficult Times
Written By: Tom Ogg, Co-Owner – Travel Professional NEWS
The travel industry has certainly had its ups and downs. In fact, the only thing constant in our industry is turbulence and change. The current COVID-19 impact has certainly made a huge impact on our industry. Who would have ever thought that we would ever see the entire cruise industry not operating, hotels and resorts across the world closed for business, a massive reduction in air travel and borders closed to travelers?
And, the current COVID-19 pandemic is exceptionally chaotic, it will be followed by huge amounts of opportunity and growth. While many agents may not make it through this crisis, those that do will prosper. It is this reality that should guide travel entrepreneurs through the roller coaster of events as we are currently experiencing them.
After over 50+ years in the travel industry, I thought I would share some of the other times of chaotic events the industry has lived through and it might make today’s challenges a little more tolerable.
Here are some of the events that rocked the travel agent’s world.
1968 – Hong Kong Flu Pandemic
I had just started working for a tour operator calling on travel agents who said their business pretty much came to a halt. The Hong Kong Flu Pandemic saw between 1 million to 4 million deaths world wide. The pandemic led to the recession of 1969 to 1970.
1973 to 1975 – Gas Shortage Recession
This was outrageous. I was working as a DSM for Aloha Airlines in Los Angeles. It took hours waiting in line to buy gasoline. Airlines raised their rates to offset the huge price increases in fuel. Travel took a huge hit.
1981 – Airline Deregulation Act Takes Full Effect
Completely changed the airline industry forever and set the stage for the disintermediation of travel agents. What ensued was complete chaos for the next 10 years.
1981 to 1982 – Energy Crisis Recession
Oh man, this was really bad. The prime interest rate hit 21.5%. No one had any money and if they did, it went into money market accounts that were paying huge yields. The cost of money plus airline deregulation created huge problems for the travel industry at large.
1990 to 1991 – The Gulf War Recession
After Iraq invaded Kuwait the price of oil went through the roof and led to the Gulf War. NAFTA also became reality and the economy was being drained due to jobs being moved offshore. Selling international travel during this period was virtually impossible.
1995 – Delta Caps Airline Commissions
Amid tons of competitive pressures from regional hub and spoke start up airlines that deregulation created, Delta Airlines capped the commissions that they paid travel agents which had a negative impact on all travel agents. All of the airlines followed suit to be “cost competitive”. This started the demise of thousands and thousands of travel agency storefronts and sparked the move to a home-base.
2001 – 9/11
Disrupted international travel and was followed by a recession caused by the DotCom bubble bursting and several accounting scams being uncovered by major corporations. 9/11 saw many travelers changing their travel plans based on the fears of terrorism.
2002 – Airline Commissions Cease to Exist
The complete elimination of airline commissions led to thousands of retail storefront travel agencies to close their doors forever.
2007 to 2009 – The Great Recession
The market melt down sparked by the sub-prime mortgage crisis causing many companies in the real estate industry to go bankrupt. The absolute free fall in housing prices left most consumers cancelling their travel plans.
2009 to 2010 – Swine Flu Pandemic
While the Swine Flu pandemic didn’t materialize to be the killer of millions it was thought to have become, it did cause many people to change their travel habits, especially to Mexico where it originated.
Yes, at the current moment this looks really, really bad. But, just like all of the other events that caused chaos and hardship on travel agents, this too will pass.
As you can see the travel industry has been hit numerous times over the last 50+years with challenges that were seemingly insurmountable at the time. But, in every case the crisis passed and was followed by rapid growth and opportunity. Here are some thoughts on how agents can Flourish during the current COVID-19 Crisis.
What You Can Do to Thrive and Succeed Through Challenging Times as a Travel Professional
Secure Your Cashflow
Most agencies have seen a rash of cancellations and a lack of interest in booking for the future until more is known about when the “All Clear” signal will be made available. As a result some agencies have seen a drastic loss of income in the short term. Securing your security to survive the COVID-19 shut down is your most important task and should be your total focus until you are comfortable that you will have the reserves to make it happen. Fortunately there are a number of things that you can do.
Cash In on EIDL and / or PPP in the CARES Act
The government has approved a 2.2 trillion dollar relief package for small business among other things. As a small business you will qualify whether you are a corporation, partnership, sole proprietor or independent contractor. Virtually all agencies will qualify for the EIDL (Economic Injury Disaster Loan) and PPP (Payroll Protection Program) and benefit from government guaranteed loans from your bank that will be forgiven at the end, as long as the money is spent covering certain operational costs.
Consider Refinancing Your Home
Interest rates have never been lower than they are right now. Perhaps you can take some money out as equity in your home to float your business through the challenging period. Even if you don’t need the money for your business, Cashing in on today’s low interest rates is a no brainer.
Fine Tune Your Personal and Business Budgets
One of the first things that you should do is fine tuning your operating costs and expenses. There are a lot of things you can eliminate for the duration of the COVID-19 quarantine period. Remember that cash is king during this period and you should do everything possible to protect and preserve as much cash as you can.
Once you have secured your cash flow and do not have to worry about running out of money before the COVID-19 crisis is over, you can now move forward with building your business so that it is ready to exploit opportunities as they present themselves when the travel industry starts waking up.
10 Marketing Strategies You Can Use to Grow Your Business During the COVID-19 Crisis
1. Client Retention
Staying “Front of Mind” with your clients is critical during the COVID-19 crisis. The best way to handle this is by applying the 80/20 rule to your client base. Identify where 80% of your revenue is coming from and isolate those clients so that you can personally focus on offering them help, support and community on a personal level. This will secure your business when the crisis is behind us. Also have a plan for the other 20% of your revenue to also stay in front of them in a meaningful way.
2. Alter Your Agency’s Tone
While your agency’s brand has its own UVP that you have worked hard to perfect, you can still operate within that UVP by altering the “tone” of your agency’s communication. Instead of presenting as the authority you should soften your tone from expert to personal and from selling to helping. You should use this in all channels that you communicate with clients on.
3. Use Your Resources to Help Your Clients
Generally, we in the travel industry are quite a bit more knowledgeable about technology. Identify what resources you might be able to offer your clients to help with issues they may be having. Helping them to connect online is a huge benefit that will not be forgotten. Think of the resources that you have and ways to help clients through the COVID-19 crisis.
4. Go Offline
Nothing impresses clients more than hand written notes and letters. Use these during the crisis to really impact your relationship with your clients. And, also use the telephone to check up on them and offer any help that they need. If you have seniors in your client base offer to pick something up for them when you go shopping. These are the kinds of things that really cement your relationships.
5. Join Local Online Community Groups
Facebook has groups on just about every topic under the sun. There are more than likely community groups for you specific area that have become quite popular during the quarantine. You should seek them out and join them; not with the idea of marketing to them, but of being of service to the groups. Sites like nextdoor.com are also worth joining and participating in. If your clients are all over the world, but connected by a common interest, I am sure that you can find groups for that as well. While you are at it, why not start a Facebook group that deals with local COVID-19 news and events in your area?
6. Have an Online Cocktail Party
While there are a ton of video conferencing tools out there, zoom.com is one of the easiest and least expensive to use. You can host a wonderful cocktail party for up to 40-minutes and 100 guests for absolutely free. And, while it sounds kind of hokey, once you have one you will find your clients looking forward to the next one because of the social interaction. Of course, you should never market at the cocktail party, just make it fun and include everyone.
7. Pivot Your Social Media Presence
Pivot your social media presence from advertising to community support. Use your resources to support your community and turn your agency into a supportive entity that people will identify long after the COVID-19 crisis is past. Since just about everyone is spending more time online than ever before, consider launching entertaining activities such as a “Where is This” contest with travel photos, or a “Name This Port” contest in your social media. Posting Travel Jokes, funny stories and cartoons are all ways to put your clients at ease. How about arranging a “Where I am Going to Go Once COVID-19 is Over” contest.
8. Create Online Content to Sell
During this period of quarantine is the perfect time to write that book you have been wanting to or creating an instructional video. It is easy to have your book published in both print and ebook formats by using Amazon’s self publishing tools located at kdp.amazon.com. They will publish the book and also sell it through Amazon’s network. Not only will you increase your credibility by being a published author, you may well create a new revenue stream.
9. Use Digital Content Formats
Now is a great time to learn how to edit video to create engaging video for use on your website and social media. Learn how to create Flip Books, Infographics and use photo editing software. You can really increase the quality of your content by using these formats. We also offer a variety of Free Downloads located in our Resources for Travel Professionals.
10. Think About Advertising Specialties
Once people start traveling again, I am quite sure that they will practice social distancing, washing their hands and other protective behavior. Think about branding products such as hand sanitizers, face masks, thermometers and so on.
The COVID-19 Pandemic is truly a serious event and one that is bound to change travel forever in ways we may not currently understand. But, the reality is that it will end and people will start traveling again and those that use this time to build their business and relationships will do awesome when it happens. Our industries’ suppliers, cruise ships, resorts, hotels, all-0inclusives and yes, even the airlines will all need our help.
So stop watching the news, worrying about your future and thinking negatively and build your post COVID-19 success starting right now.