Arnie WeissmannWhen this economic malaise passes, demand for travel will grow at about 4% per year through the new decade, according to a recent Oxford Economics study commissioned by the World Travel and Tourism Council.

In other words, there is not just light, but bright sunshine, at the end of the tunnel.

However, if you're among the travel agents whose plan for 2010 is to continue practicing your business as usual in the hope of riding out the economic downturn, there's a good chance you'll be out of business before you can leverage the benefits of the industry's next growth cycle.

The key to reaching that sunshine at the end of the tunnel is to take proactive steps now to grow your business and take advantage of opportunities that less-progressive agents might miss.

Among Travel Weekly's core missions is service to the industry. In that spirit, last week we announced that in April we'll be hosting two trade show/conferences, one geared toward agents who sell cruises and one focusing on the needs of home-based agents.

The Original Home Based Travel Agent Show and Conference and Travel Weekly CruiseWorld 2010 will co-locate April 14 to 17 at the Greater Fort Lauderdale/Broward County Convention Center.

It might at first seem like odd timing to jump into the events business with both feet when the travel industry itself is still regaining its footing after a bruising year. But we believe there has never been a better time to bring the travel community together to share ideas that work, tap into expert opinion and sharpen product knowledge.

The industry is at a crossroads that calls for ear-to-the-ground intelligence, creative thinking, business-focused dialogue and ideas that can help agency owners manage their businesses toward greater profitability, whether they work out of a one-person home office or manage one of the $100 million-plus agencies on Travel Weekly's Power List.

And make no mistake: The coming year is going to be challenging. A significant majority of industry executives I interviewed in December for our Preview 2010 issue predicted that discounting will continue through 2010, which means a continuation of lower commissions per transaction.

This will affect home-based and brick-and-mortar agents alike, so in both of our new shows, the focus will be on increasing your profitability and growing your business despite the challenges of 2010.

For CruiseWorld 2010, we're excited to offer an unprecedented mix of ship inspections, including tours of Royal Caribbean's new Oasis of the Seas. This is a fantastic opportunity to get a firsthand look at a ship that is commanding both big attention and high premiums. (You know what a difference it can make to clients when you're describing something you have seen with your own eyes. No marketing materials can accurately convey what the Oasis represents, with its impressive size; it has to be seen.)

Similarly, after touring the other ships we've lined up for inspection, you'll be able to exercise the power of the phrase, "I've seen it myself."

As regards the Original Home Based Travel Agent Show, there are tremendous opportunities for home agents to increase profitability this year.

I have to admit that I initially underestimated just how much home agents would end up contributing to the vibrancy of travel distribution. In fact, I wrote a column five years ago suggesting that interest in the home agent phenomenon was a bubble that was bound to burst.

But today, I am a convert. I have been amazed at the entrepreneurial ingenuity of home agents, their associations and their hosts, and today I'm working closely with top home agents and leaders in the field to shape our conference program. Our goal is to help home agents boost their productivity and revenue in a year when small businesses are at particular risk.

The two shows together offer an incredible opportunity to network with the brightest minds in the industry, from cruise line CEOs to the home agents who earn six-figure incomes. In a year when new ideas are the key to growth, the opportunity to meet like-minded professionals who share your belief in an exciting future for travel agents is one that cannot be passed up.

With these two April shows in Fort Lauderdale, Travel Weekly has made an investment in the future, both yours and ours. To join what promises to be two of the most powerful agent events of the year, go to www.cruiseworld2010.com and www.homebasedagentshow.com and sign up today.

It is truly an opportunity to turn 2010 into a year to look forward to, rather than simply hoping to get through.

Contact Arnie Weissmann at [email protected], and follow him on Twitter.

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