s the U.S. sits mired in another recession, the travel industry is hurting more than at any other time.

People are not worried simply about the economy. They're concerned about their safety and are fearful of travel.

It all adds up to tough times for travel agencies. Or, perhaps we should say "tougher" times, because even before the events of Sept. 11, many agencies were financially beleaguered. So what does it take to pull out of this economic tailspin?

• Retreat strategically. There is no shame in settling for the status quo and hanging on to what you have.

In a diminished market, it is unlikely you will increase market share. Better to spend money and effort on providing a higher level of service and satisfaction to existing clients.

• Help your clients survive.

Examine your operation. Are you doing the very best you can to save clients money? Are you primed to help them navigate the complex network of fare structures? Do you have systems in place that help corporate clients track travel expenses and stay within bounds?

Have you negotiated the lowest possible hotel rates? Are you using all of the tools available to make your agency not only look good in the eyes of clients but also to appear indispensable?

• Enlist key employees. Owners and managers can't afford to go it alone. By keeping to themselves the problems affecting their agencies, they could further damage morale.

Enlist the help of supervisors and even front-line personnel. Solicit suggestions and solutions.

You'll be surprised not only at the practical ideas that are generated from within but also by the positive attitude this openness can produce.

• Cut overhead. Look for ways to cut costs (staffers can provide suggestions here, too). Remember, a dollar saved goes directly to the bottom line.

• Provide incentives. Here is a worthwhile way to spend a little money. Install an employee-incentive program to increase sales and productivity.

There's lots of help available from companies that specialize in motivation. You might be surprised to find how affordable such programs have become. So, while you can't make the recession go away, you can make sure the recession doesn't take your agency with it.

Bill Chiles is president and chief executive officer of Hickory Travel Systems, an international network of independent corporate travel agencies.

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