There is always that hope. There is always the chance that the old ways of doing things in our industry will give way to the winds of change. Of course, like you, I doubt it. But how much worse can it really get? We just have to believe that there are better times ahead.
The president-elect has so much on his plate, one wonders why he would even step near the dining room. We can sympathize and wish him well.
For those of us who sell fantasy, rejuvenation, exploration and understanding, this new year could not have come at a better time. For those of us who sell what is, bottom-line, discretionary self-gifting, this old year has ended none too soon.
Air travel has become such a hassle that growing numbers of the population believe that it just isn't worth the bother. How do we convince them otherwise? How do we humanize the airport experience?
For those of us who promote the belief that it is well worth the hassles to actually get somewhere, increasing numbers of our clients find us redundant. "What can you possibly do for me that I can't do for myself?" they ask.
I am not sure that we, as an industry, have been even remotely effective at answering the question. We are seeing a new challenge, the fulfillment of dreams via Internet-based vending machines. And that surely won't go away in the new year.
Then there is the erosion of the savings that so many millions viewed as the bedrock of future travels. They had been looking forward to a retirement filled with dream fulfillment by a corps of well-traveled advisers. The evolvement of the travel agent was waiting for this moment, anticipating this new year. But suddenly our clients' dreams have evaporated, and we are now desperately trying to save Citibank and General Motors while pundits are saying that any recovery will take a very long time.
Add to that the Marriott Hotel bombing in Islamabad; the terror at the Taj and Oberoi in Mumbai; and the inability of 24-hour news to pause -- for just a moment, for just a breath -- to consider whether they got their facts right.
The result is commentary on MSNBC that "terrorists are increasingly targeting five-star hotels where Americans stay."
Are they? In the case of India, it turns out they weren't. But the message has gotten through to those contemplating travel abroad. Perhaps it would be best to avoid the name hotels that cater to Americans. As the commentator pointed out, "The terrorists have learned that these five-star hotels have no security at all."
So the challenges we face in this new year seem impossible. But like our brethren in real estate sales, we somehow see change for the better in our collective future. This new year, we will get it right.
So where do we look for optimism as this new year approaches?
Fuel prices have come down, and American Airlines finally broke the aircraft-order silence with a sizeable claim to the new 787. Virgin America is showing that passenger loyalties can be shifted quickly, and Southwest continues to understand what passengers really want from their airline.
There is reason for optimism in the hotel sector, as traditional decor, design and service standards are all subject to scrutiny. The hotel industry, particularly the upper end of the market, now understands that guests are coming from some pretty nice home environments, complete with media rooms, bathrooms that resemble small spas and loftlike brick and stone. They expect their hotel rooms to reflect their taste.
That message has been heard, and the industry is reacting with redesigns and new concept hotels that will revitalize the industry. I can't wait to get my invitation to the black-tie event celebrating the removal of the last swatch of shag carpeting from an American hotel room.
The cruise lines figured out that the new passenger does not want to be told what to do. They want options. Lines are racing to fulfill these dreams, and the new Royal Caribbean advertising slogan, "The Nation of Why Not," reflects these changes. Although for many tech-savvy consumers, they might have added the word "Now."
Want to walk on real grass, have dinner in a Le Cordon Bleu Restaurant, sleep outdoors on a Balinese bed, lounge in an "adults only" spa area? These options are all currently available, and there are lots more to come.
Then there is the product line that gives the agent the greatest cause for optimism: the tour sector. The nation's best tour operators pay agents commission on the full value of the trip. They have the flexibility to increase departures in some areas of the world while reducing their exposure in others. They are nimble, and they are cost effective. They are easy to book, they support the agent community, and they pay the highest dividends.
Watch, in this new year, as more and more cruise-only firms begin to include escorted tour programs in their product lines.
So we have still one more chance to get it right. And we will. Because if things seem tough now, we don't have to go very far back in our history to reach the times of the Greatest Generation, when world war quickly followed on the heels of depression. And they handled it.
We sell the world. We see the world. We work in professions that share a common bond. We all deal with the best moments of people's lives. Who are we to feel sorry for ourselves? Who are we to say we won't come out of this slump? We have, we can and we will.
We have another chance to "get it right."
Contributing editor Richard Turen owns Churchill and Turen, a vacation-planning firm that has been named to the Conde Nast Traveler's list of the World's Top Travel Specialists since the list began. Contact him at [email protected].