Years ago I asked a business associate to play tennis one weekend. He was skilled; I had had two or three lessons. Besides, I'd stayed at a Holiday Inn Express the night before, so I had that going for me.
He beat me like a rented mule. In a post-mortem over a beer, I asked him how I could improve my game. He said, "Stay out of no man's land."
He went on to explain that offensive players play at the net. Defensive players play at the baseline. Those in the middle are in "no man's land," and we know what happens there.
The retail channel finds itself in a similar situation today.
Some very small-volume agents/agencies may not depend on travel income for living expenses.
Many very large agencies have a stronger cash position or access to capital markets to secure loans sufficient to operate until travel ramps up and commissions begin flowing again.
Then we have the agents and agencies caught in no man's land. What are they to do to keep their doors open and maintain their most valuable asset: their staff? Simply put, whatever it takes.
What have some agencies done?
- Move home, negotiate with the landlord for rent abatement or forgiveness. It may be necessary to assure the landlord you will move back.
- Stop paying themselves or reduce pay to bare bones.
- Negotiate extended payments with all suppliers.
- Be alert for low-interest or forgivable loans at the federal, state and local level. We qualified for enough Paycheck Protection Program money and local funds from the Cares Act to carry us for five months. Additionally, our state, Tennessee, has announced a round of loans that will give us another three months. Do not assume there is no other money available.
- Change providers for any services you can, even if the savings is only $50 a month. We dropped our communications provider and saved $65 a month.
- Explore reducing employee hours by 20%.
- Change employee compensation plans to straight commission.
- Furlough employees if there is no other alternative. Some large agencies have furloughed or outright laid off up to 94% of their booking agents.
- Consider merging with or selling your business to another agency. It's a hard choice to make, and there has not been a worse time to sell in at least 40 years, but sometimes it is necessary to step back and banish emotions from the business decision-making process. Check out fellow Travel Weekly columnist Mark Pestronk online; he has written various scenarios about how this can work.
- Lobby your members of Congress and senators to expedite passage of Senate bill S-3814 and House resolution H.R. 7481. Collectively known as Restart, this is the single most critical measure before Congress. It will fend off the collapse of many small-business industries, including the retail travel channel.
It's like this: If you are reading this, you are a survivor. If you have been doing this for 20 years, you are a triple survivor. Don't give up, but don't close your eyes to solutions that don't fit the mold.