hen Stanley Plog formed Plog Research in 1974, the company's name seemed redundant -- "Plog" and "Research" were already synonymous in the travel industry.

Though he sold the company (now NFO Plog Research) in 1996, he still consults to it and works on independent projects for some of the biggest names in the travel industry.

And he recently signed a contract to write yet another book, this one entitled "Growing the Leisure Travel Market: A Handbook for the 21st Century," to be published by Prentice Hall at the end of 2002.

Stan's ability as a prognosticator is well-documented, and the beginning of a new year is certainly the season for predictions.

So I wondered aloud to him: "When will the travel industry recover from the twin effects of Sept. 11 and the slow economy?"

"When consumers start to suffer from what I call 'cabin fever syndrome,' " he replied.

"In a soft economy, the majority of people tend to hunker down and spend less on just about everything except local entertainment. Even those with jobs worry about the future and begin putting some money away," he explained.

"But after awhile, people begin to have discussions within their families to the effect that, 'We haven't traveled in a long time, and who knows what tomorrow will bring? So let's take a trip and enjoy ourselves. We deserve it.' "

In other words, people get tired of hanging around the house or just taking short, weekend trips.

Plog said this will happen first with those who still have jobs, but even those without work will begin to think the same way -- that life is passing them by, and they'd better enjoy it now.

But how soon will this happen?

"In November, I thought we wouldn't see recovery until very late in 2002 or the spring of 2003, but now I think it's already happening. There was a psychological containment as a result of Sept. 11 that's hastening the process."

Plog predicts a "bulge" in leisure travel that could kick domestic travel growth to mid or high single digits, and international travel to even stronger levels -- a bulge that could last three or four years.

"It happened in 1994 and helped pull the economy out of recession. And it will happen again in 2002."

Looking deeper into his crystal ball, he sees that even after pent-up demand is satisfied, leisure travel will still be a growth market, with increases of about 3% a year in "normal" times.

"Travel agents are in a good industry," Plog said. "But they should always be thinking of steps to improve their positions."

One such step Plog advocates is for large travel agencies or groups of agencies to analyze the route patterns of where (and how often) their clients travel.

If they can pull together sufficient numbers, they can approach airlines, hotels and other suppliers, much like corporate travel managers do, to get discounts on the volume they will deliver.

They can pass part of the savings on to clients and keep a larger portion for themselves.

"A relatively good future will exist for the smart, creative travel agents," Plog concluded.

"Some of the trends I've identified will impact all agencies in a positive way, but agencies will nonetheless still have to work hard to get and stay ahead of the pack."


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